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The California state legislature is poised to pass two bills that will destroy neighborhoods and forever alter the concept of single family communities.  The legislative body isn’t setting out to ruin neighborhoods specifically, but that’s exactly what SB9 and SB10 will do.  The bills have already been passed by the state senate and await approval by the assembly.

Positioned as a way to solve the “housing crisis,” the bills will override local land use plans and zoning designations to pave the way for split lots and multifamily dwellings to replace single family homes, with little oversight and no public input.  Neither bill, however stipulates affordable housing, referring to the resulting new units as market rate.

SB9 and SB10 were written by state senators Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) respectively.  Both say they want to see an end to single family home ownership in California.  Weiner has publicly stated that “single family homes and yards are immoral.”

SB9 rezones, by state statute, virtually all parcels within single family residential zones.  It preempts local zoning, prohibits public hearings and discretionary decisions on split lot housing, and exempts those developments from environmental review.  Residential lots may be split to accommodate two units on each half.  Previous legislation already removed local control from accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and junior ADUs built on residential lots.  That means a single family property could be modified with an ADU, JADU and then be subdivided to host four more units.   That puts eight units on a parcel intended by local land use plans to hold just one.

Applications to split lots must be approved “ministerially.”  There is no consideration for community values, i.e. heritage trees, views, bike paths, open space.  With only four foot setbacks required and split lots as small as 1,200 square feet, units can be crammed together with no greenspace.  Developers are not required to contribute to infrastructure or provide parking.  Cities that normally collect fees from developers for road improvements, parks and schools, will have to make up the difference themselves.

Orange County state senators Bob Archuleta (SD-32), Tom Umberg (SD-34) and Dave Min (SD-37) voted yes on SB9.  Pat Bates (SD-36) voted no and Josh Newman (SD-29) did not have a vote recorded.

SB9 does exempt historic districts, hazardous waste sites, high fire zones or land designated for conservation.

Enter SB10.  That bill gives city councils and county supervisors the ability to ministerially rezone properties in loosely defined “urban infill” or “transit rich” areas for 10-unit buildings. “Urban infill” in California means virtually any lot containing housing or businesses, or any vacant lot. “Transit rich” means there is a bus line 1/2 mile away. SB 10 will allow 10-unit “market-rate” apartment buildings plus granny flats on most blocks in most communities, including in business districts and single-family neighborhoods.

The only exemption is areas deemed to be high fire zones by the state. The bill does not reconcile the impacts on infrastructure or require parking.  It invalidates CR&R restrictions and, most egregious, it allows local governing bodies to overturn zoning restrictions enacted by voter initiative.

Attorney Robert Perlmutter, who has represented Orange County citizens on land use issues, wrote a letter to Senator Atkins legal counsel regarding SB10.  “As the California Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed,” he wrote,” the initiative power is not a right granted to the people.  Rather it is a power reserved by them in their constitution.  A fundamental aspect of the initiative power at the local level is that it gives the voters the final legislative word.  SB10 would turn this principle on its head by giving local legislative bodies the final legislative word over the voters.”

In his view, Perlmutter added, “the legislature does not have the constitutional power to allow city council or boards of supervisors to overturn the will of the voters in this manner.”

Evidently attorneys Min and Umberg are unaware of this constitutional inconvenience, as both voted yes on SB10.  Archuleta also voted yes.  Pat Bates gets it and voted no.  Attorney Newman may also understand the fine points and did not record a vote.

Developers and investors are salivating.  Homeowners who may see this legislation as an opportunity to cash in on their residential investment might be disappointed.  Homeowners must pay off their mortgages when they split their lots and the new parcels will be reassessed at the resulting higher value.  Homeowners may not want to take on a higher property tax burden, but developers will. And why not.  Backed by a stable of investors, they can outbid families looking for a home to live in, and replace the single residence with four, six, eight or 10 units with no pesky local ordinances to work around, no fees to pay, no environmental impact reports to produce, and no public hearings to endure.  

AB10 could be voted on by the assembly as soon as Monday, July 12.  Sharon Quirk-Silva (AD-65) voted yes in committee.  Orange County assembly delegates Phillip Chen (AD-55), Steven Choi (AD-68), Tom Daly (AD-69), Janet Nguyen (AD-72), Laurie Davis (AD-73) and Cottie Petrie-Norris (AD-74) have yet to be heard. 

Tina Richards is editor of the Foothills Sentry newspaper, a monthly paper serving Orange, Villa Park, North Tustin and the Canyons.  As such, she follows land use issues and the impacts they have on Orange County communities.

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