With little fanfare, Senate Bill 9 (SB 9) went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022 and effectively ended single-family residential zoning in California. With few exceptions, any parcel currently in a single-family residential zone (R1) can now be subdivided into two lots, and as much as a two-story duplex with up to 800 square feet in each unit can be built on each subdivided lot without any public review required, provided that some basic requirements are met. In other words, up to four housing units can now be built in the space that currently has only one.
SB 9 has the potential to drastically change the character of our existing R1 neighborhoods. Even though it's already possible to build two-story homes in R1 zones, in reality there are relatively few. Up until now owners who wished to add a second story or build a new 2-story home were subject to well-thought out zoning standards which dictated things like minimum setbacks so that we could still enjoy a reasonable amount of privacy.
Under SB 9, side and rear setbacks from the property lines have been reduced to only four feet (formerly the minimum setback was as much as 25 feet for flag lot second stories). In addition, SB 9 requires at most only one onsite parking space per unit, and if the parcel is within half a mile of a high quality transit corridor like El Camino Real or a major transit stop like a Caltrain station, no onsite parking is required at all. Street parking is bound to increase. The end result is that neighborhoods will take on a much more urban appearance as lots are converted. This is not what I was expecting when I bought my house in a typical R1 neighborhood.
SB 9 does not require any of the new housing to be affordable. As housing density increases, so do land values, so developers will need to charge more to make their projects "pencil out." By decreasing the supply of traditional single family homes, SB 9 will inevitably drive prices up for these too. It's a vicious cycle that will continue as long as the demand for housing is not addressed.
Because these small developments will not have to pay park and school fees or provide community benefits as larger projects typically do when building density is increased, the cost for these to support an increasing population will have to be borne by all residents, not the developers. As a result, we end up paying more while our quality of life deteriorates.
SB 9 was unpopular even before it was signed into law. Currently about 70% of Californians surveyed oppose it. Some cities are trying to enact ordinances to block its effects. Meanwhile, a grassroots effort called Our Neighborhood Voices, which started in Southern California, is seeking to put a ballot initiative on next November's ballot. It would amend the state constitution and let local zoning ordinances overrule state laws if they are in conflict. Please consider supporting efforts to counteract this ill-conceived law and others like it.
Albert Jeans is a 38-year resident of Mountain View and 33-year homeowner