Assembly passes SB9, allowing four houses on a lot

Daily Post Staff Writer

The state Assembly yesterday (Aug. 26) passed Senate Bill 9, which will require cities to approve four homes on a single-family lot — a measure opposed by most mid-Peninsula cities and neighborhood activists.

The bill was approved 44-16, with local Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, voting in favor.

“SB9 won’t single-handedly solve our housing crisis, but it will help address housing affordability by creating duplexes and smaller single-family homes at more moderate price points,” he said.

The bill now heads back to the Senate for a concurrence vote, where the differences in the Senate and Assembly versions are reconciled. In May, the Senate approved an earlier version of the bill, 28-6, with the vote of state Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park.

It would then go to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who hasn’t taken a public position on the bill. He has until Oct. 10 to sign or veto the bill.

SB9 requires cities to approve lot splits on residential lots larger than 2,400 square feet, and each lot could then contain two homes or a duplex.

In theory, a single-family home could be transformed into eight units if SB9 is signed. Cities can already approve an accessory dwelling unit up to 800 square feet, and a junior dwelling unit up to 500 square feet that is connected to the main home. So, a property owner could split their lot, then build a duplex and two granny units on each parcel. But cities are only required to approve four of those units.

Many cities have organized against SB9, including Palo Alto, Los Altos and San Carlos. Those cities have passed resolutions opposing state control of housing and written letters against the latest bills to do so.

A letter to Gov. Newsom endorsed by nine local council members said SB9 does not achieve affordability and undermines local democracy. Local planners understand their community more intimately than the state or developers, and overriding local zoning could undermine sustainability initiatives, the letter says.

“Governor Newsom needs to hit the reset button on the legislature’s current strategies that benefit developers, hurt the residents, and do not facilitate production of low/very low-income housing,” the letter says.

Assembly also passed a related bill

It has been a busy week for state housing legislation. On Monday, the Assembly passed Senate Bill 10, which allows cities to forego environmental review and override local land-use restrictions when approving developments of up to 10 units on single-family lots.

SB10 is controversial because it gives city councils the power to override voter-approved initiatives that restrict land use. Unlike SB9, it is up to local agencies on whether they want to deploy SB10.

Proponents of the bills say that neither is a silver bullet, but a step in the right direction to address severe supply shortages.

SB9 was amended last week to address some of the concerns.

If a building official finds that a project would have a specific impact on public health and safety, then a city can deny the project.

If a property owner splits their lot, he or she must sign an affidavit agreeing to reside in one of the housing units for at least three years, unless the owner is a nonprofit.

Berman hadn’t previously announced a position until yesterday, when he explained both of his votes.

On SB10, he said that for as long as he has been in the Assembly, the cities in his district have requested additional, voluntary tools to build more housing, and the bill does just that.

On SB9, he said he was pleased by the amendments, and he was struck by the range and diversity of colleagues who spoke in favor of the bill.

Both bills, combined with large amounts of state spending on affordable housing, are a step in the right direction, he said.

For decades, California has failed to build enough housing and has failed the most vulnerable, he said.

Housing advocate pleased by bill’s passage

Kelsey Banes, the executive director of Peninsula for Everyone, said her group is thrilled that all local representatives voted to support SB9. It will help seniors who want to age in place while increasing their income by renting accessory units, she said. It will also ease overcrowded multi-generational households looking for more private space, she said.

“This modest, but meaningful, legislation to legalize duplexes statewide will open up exclusionary neighborhoods and create more attainable homeownership opportunities for hard-working families,” she said. “There is much more work still to be done to meet our region’s housing needs, but SB9 is an important step forward.”

Duffy Price, a fire commissioner for the Los Altos Hills County Fire District, took the opposite view. She said Berman is not defending his community, and he probably lives in a single-family home himself. She said she is troubled by the shift in power to Sacramento, and wants communities like Los Altos Hills to be able to protect and enhance their own communities.

“Unfortunately Sacramento has a different interest,” she said.

Proponents of SB9 have accused the opposition of racism and misinformation, but she says they are simply defending their communities.


    • Exactly my concern also. Interesting that the Recall election was sped up to happen well before the deadline for Governor Newsom signing this year’s very controversial and radical legislative bills, like SB 9 and SB 10.

  1. Yes, Berman lives in a single-family home in Menlo Park.

    The Governor will have time to sign these bills, even if he’s recalled. And he probably will.

  2. So is this going to have to be undone by a California initiative? Or are there legal / constitutional flaws in both SB 9 and 10 that can land them in court?

    • Yep, and such an initiative is already being penned. Speaking of initiatives, there is some question whether these bills can withstand legal challenge, because they usurp power from voter approved measures. According to Article II, Section 10 (c) of the State Constitution, initiatives can only be overridden by approval of voters, not simply by legislative acts. The CA Constitution makes no distinction between local and state legislatures, meaning Sacramento can’t ovveride voter approvals even if those were approvals were on local measures (Boards of Supervisors and City Councils are legislatures),

  3. A major blow to property rights. The state increasingly owns your labor and your property. Google, Facebook, and an abundance of California’s Woke Taliban own your thoughts, behavior, and self identity. California isn’t progressing it’s actually a really big mess.
    The best answer is to encourage new communities beyond the Bay Area, force corporations to decentralize, and limit unchecked tech expansion where there simply isn’t enough space, transportation, and resources to support it. Justice warriors who have moved millions of illegals into this sanctuary state now need to force you to accommodate them.

  4. This isn’t a small step, it’s huge! And hugely beneficial! It not only will allow a lot more density, it’ll start transforming the soul-crushing, inhumane suburban landscapes in this state into dynamic, growing communities that will support local businesses and service at walkable (and bikable) distances. It will give lower income homeowners a leg up in building intergenerational wealth, It’ll provide housing for the poor, elderly and young people starting families. It will help stem urban sprawl and shorten commutes. It will help fight climate change.

  5. How about the infrastructure that is needed to support the housing expansions? People do not only live, they drive to work, send kids to school for good education – where is the look on expansion strategy for those? We cannot have 60 students per one teach ratio, can we?

  6. This bill quite literally gives property owners the right to do more with their land. It is only a blow to neighbors who want to control what they do with it. Whether you agree or disagree that we need more density, it makes no sense that this bill could be construed as negatively impacting property rights.

  7. Community standards are perhaps the biggest reason people choose to live where they live. Good homes, good schools, good government – stability supported by good services provide the underpinnings of good towns and good places to live. Nobody wants their single story home in the shadows of a newly build Zillow or hedge fund property. People who can’t afford these properties and as above, people who push for ever-expanding corporate sites and open boarders do so without regard to those who worked hard to build their homes and neighborhoods to the desired places they are. Opportunity doesn’t mean changing the rules to take other people’s stuff.

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