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California Advances Zoning Bills to Promote Scarce Housing



One of the measures would would make it easier to build smaller second units on single-family properties. (Shutterstock)
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Spurred by an affordable housing shortage, spiking home prices and intractable homelessness, California lawmakers on Thursday advanced the second of two measures designed to cut through local zoning ordinances.

The measure promoted by Senate leader Toni Atkins and supported by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, both Democrats, would make it easier to build smaller second units on what are now single-family properties. That could include up to four units, such as duplexes or homes with attached living units, if the lot is split into two equal parcels under the bill.

The goal is “opening the door for more families to pursue their version of the California Dream,” said Atkins, “whether that means building a home for an elderly parent to live in, creating a new source of income, buying that first house, or being welcomed into a new neighborhood.”

Assembly Clears Zoning Bills Aimed to Add More Housing Units

The measure largely skirts local approval, though Atkins earlier added ways for local governments to block construction that might imperil public safety or public health or is done by housing speculators. Those applying for the lot splits would have to swear that they intend to occupy one of the housing units as their principal residence for a minimum of three years.

It cleared the 80-member Assembly on a bipartisan 45-19 vote.

The bill “will accelerate duplexes and lot splits in areas zoned for single-family housing,” objected Republican Assemblywoman Janet Nguyen, who said she would have voted no but is quarantined after testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Assembly on Monday passed a related bill by Sen. Scott Wiener that would make it easier for local governments to rezone neighborhoods near mass transit for up to 10 housing units.

That bill squeaked out on a 41-9 vote, with no votes to spare, despite supporters noting it was recently amended to make it optional for local governments.

“Legalizing small apartment buildings near transit and in urban infill areas reduces environmental impacts and slashes climate pollution,” Brian Hanlon, chief executive of the advocacy group California YIMBY, said in a statement.

Measures Now Headed to Senate for Final Vote

The advocacy group California Community Builders argued the measures will narrow an “ever-growing racial wealth gap in California,” where more than 60% of whites own their homes compared to 35% of Blacks and about 40% of Latinos.

But several Sacramento neighborhood groups said the bills “encourage large financial organizations ownership of residential property, with an increasing percentage of lower- and middle-class citizens becoming perpetual renters.”

The measures undermine both local control and environmental protections, they contend.

Both bills head back to the Senate for final votes before the Legislature adjourns for the year on Sept. 10.

Sacramento’s City Council is moving to make the capital city one of the nation’s first to eliminate traditional single-family zoning. The cities of Portland, Oregon, and Minneapolis have passed similar ordinances in recent years. The state of Oregon passed a law eliminating traditional single-family zoning statewide.

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