There is no debate that California faces a housing affordability crisis. We know that it is very costly to rent or buy a home in most parts of the state, especially in the region I represent, which includes northern San Diego and southern Orange counties.
Many Californians recognize that increasing the supply of new housing must be part of the solution because supply is not keeping up with demand. However, some in Sacramento want to go farther than just making it easier to build new homes. They want to end single-family zoning and undermine citizen initiatives at the local level, boosting the power of non-residents and special interests at the expense of existing communities.
On Aug. 30, the California State Senate approved two bills that would significantly change California’s housing laws. Gov. Gavin Newsom will soon decide whether to sign or veto the bills.
The first bill, Senate Bill 9, would make a number of changes to the local planning process to increase the development of higher density housing in existing neighborhoods. SB 9 would require ministerial approval of duplexes and specified subdivision maps.
In practice, this bill would allow four market-rate homes where one home now stands with no requirement that infrastructure needs be modified or upgraded to meet demand. There is even a scenario where six units could be allowed and there is no guarantee that the units will be affordable.
I oppose SB 9 because it significantly undermines local control. It would allow duplexes to be built in many single-family zones and would allow for the creation of smaller parcels than local governments would deem compatible in existing neighborhoods.
SB 9 would also limit cities from requiring adequate parking at housing projects within one-half mile of public transit. Many households, even those that commute through alternative methods, own at least one vehicle, and any new development must consider this inconvenient reality.
Without adequate parking, cars have to compete for on-street parking, creating public safety issues for neighboring businesses and properties. It is unrealistic to expect that most Californians will move into new housing and not bring a personal vehicle with them.
The other bill is Senate Bill 10, which would permit a local government to pass an ordinance to upzone any parcel with up to 10 units of residential density per parcel, if it is located in a “transit-rich” area, or an urban infill site. The bill would also grant local councils the power to overrule voter-adopted housing initiatives, thereby disenfranchising the voters who adopted those initiatives.
I oppose SB 10 because it is not right for local officials to overrule local voters who have successfully approved initiatives to ensure compatible development in their communities.
SB 9 and SB 10 are not the housing solutions they claim to be as they seek to impose cookie-cutter solutions that apply across the state.
If the Legislature is serious about addressing California’s housing crisis, it will reform the California Environmental Quality Act. This law, signed by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970, has helped to protect California’s environment from the negative impacts of new development, but special interests have used it to block projects for non-environmental reasons. We should streamline CEQA so projects meeting all necessary requirements can proceed sooner rather than later.
I authored SB 1052 in 2018 to require full disclosure of all participating parties in CEQA litigation and remove anonymity from those who file under the aliases of unincorporated associations. My bill would have also required the disclosure of any party that contributes more than $100 toward the plaintiff’s or petitioner’s costs of a CEQA lawsuit, as is already required in campaign finance disclosure laws.
This would have deterred people from using CEQA anonymously as an excuse to block a project for non-environmental reasons. SB 1052 died due to partisan opposition.
Californians who want to protect their neighborhoods from unchecked development should make their voices heard. I urge you to contact the Governor and ask him to veto both SB 9 and SB 10. A veto would require the Legislature to reconsider these bills and hopefully lead to better legislation.
Sen. Patricia Bates, a Republican from Laguna Niguel, represents the 36th Senate District, which covers northern San Diego and southern Orange counties.