Two days after he repelled a recall attempt, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed on Thursday two contentious housing bills that have been at the top of the agenda for Democratic lawmakers, which will allow more dwellings on properties designated for single-family zoning.
Senate Bill 9 enables homeowners to subdivide their properties to construct up to four housing units, including two accessory dwelling units or junior accessory dwelling units. Senate Bill 10 allows cities to rezone transit-rich areas of town (blocks within a half-mile of a major transit stop) and parcels along "high-quality" bus routes for 10 housing units per parcel.
Authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, respectively, the two bills were boosted by California YIMBY and other pro-housing groups. They were also opposed by cities like Palo Alto, where city leaders have consistently characterized them as an attack on local control.
Newsom had given little indication before Tuesday's state recall election whether he will sign the bills. In endorsing them on Thursday, he said in a statement that the "housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity."
"Making a meaningful impact on this crisis will take bold investments, strong collaboration across sectors and political courage from our leaders and communities to do the right thing and build housing for all," Newsom said in a statement.
While many housing advocates have long called for the loosening of rules surrounding single-family zones — a step that has already been taken in cities like Berkeley and Minneapolis — prior efforts to achieve major zoning reforms in the Legislature had struggled to advance in recent years. In January 2020, the Legislature killed Wiener's bid to increase zoning in transit-friendly and jobs-rich areas when it voted down SB 50.
Both SB 9 and SB 10 advanced after lawmakers agreed to make several amendments to address criticisms. Among the changes, SB 9 added a requirement that the property owner live in one of the homes for three years after the lot subdivision is approved.
For SB 10, the bill was amended to address the issue of local authority. The city of Palo Alto was among those that lambasted a provision of the bill that allowed cities to use SB 10 to override existing zoning restrictions that were put in place through voter initiatives. Palo Alto's letter of opposition argues that such legislation "echoes more of Russia than of California."
Under the revision, cities that want to use the bill to override zoning restrictions imposed by local initiatives would need to secure a two-thirds majority from their legislative body.
Unlike SB 9, SB 10 is not a mandatory requirement of cities but an optional law on which they can rely. Those cities that do choose to use it cannot apply it to parkland or open space. Wiener said in a statement that SB 10 provides "one important approach: making it dramatically easier and faster for cities to zone for more housing."
"It shouldn't take five or 10 years for cities to re-zone, and SB 10 gives cities a powerful new tool to get the job done quickly," Wiener said. "I want to thank the Governor for signing this essential bill and for continuing to lead on housing."
In his signing message for SB 10, Newsom touted its "potential to increase housing development at a time when the state is experiencing a significant shortage of the units needed to meet the needs of Californians." He also warned, however, that while the benefits are promising, "certain provisions may have unintended impacts on affordable housing projects that use density bonuses, as well as possible Fair Housing implications based on how jurisdictions may choose to implement its provisions."
He wrote that he is directing the Department of Housing and Community Development's newly established Housing Accountability Unit to "vigilantly monitor the implementation of this bill at the local level, and if needed, work with the Legislature to proactively ·address any unintended consequences, should they arise."
A report from the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at University of California, Berkeley described SB 9 in July as "the most significant housing bill coming out of California's current legislative session," noting its potential to "expand the supply of smaller-scaled housing, particularly in higher-resourced, single-family neighborhoods."
In analyzing a similar proposal, SB 1120, which faltered on the final day of the prior legislative session, the Terner Center estimated that about 6 million properties would be eligible for the bill's provisions. If 5% of those parcels created new two-unit structures, that would have resulted in 597,706 new homes, according to the report.
Atkins said in a statement on Thursday that SB 9 will "open up opportunities for homeowners to help ease our state's housing shortage, while still protecting tenants from displacement," referring to a clause that disallows redevelopment of a parcel if a tenant has lived there within the prior three years.
"And it will help our communities welcome new families to the neighborhood and enable more folks to set foot on the path to buying their first home," Atkins said.
Already a group called Californians for Community Planning has launched the process to put a ballot initiative on the November 2022 ballot to reverse SB 9 and SB 10. The group is aiming to get voter approval to amend the state constitution to ensure local control of zoning, land-use and development.