Sentry Commentary
Single-family zoning is under fire statewide

The California legislature is poised to pass two bills that will destroy neighborhoods and forever alter the concept of single-family communities. The legislative body is not setting out to ruin neighborhoods specifically, but that’s exactly what SB9 and SB10 will do. The bills have already passed 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. They will 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 new units as market rate.

The pending legislation, for example, would allow North Tustin’s large residential lots to be subdivided to allow for two single-family homes (or duplexes) on each half. Those units could be joined by accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and junior ADUs, which have already been exempted from local control by legislation. That means each property could host up to 10 units. The same goes for Orange Park Acres and Villa Park.

Large lots, however, are not the primary target. “Middle class” neighborhoods, like most of Orange and the flatlands of North Tustin, are central to the scheme because they are more attractive to investors. The legislation would allow lot splitting on smaller properties as long as each new plot is 1,200 square feet.

SB9 and SB10 were written by State Senators Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco). Both say they want to see an end to single-fam- ily zoning in California. Weiner has 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. 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, units can be crammed together with no greenspace. Developers are not required to contribute to infra- structure or provide parking.

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

Enter SB10. It 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 a half-mile away. SB10 will allow 10-unit “market-rate” apartment buildings plus granny flats on most blocks in most communities.

The only exemption is state-defined high fire zones. The bill does not reconcile the impacts on infrastructure. It invalidates CC&R restrictions and, most egregious, it allows local governing bodies to overturn zoning restrictions en- acted by voter initiative.
Attorney Robert Perlmutter, who has represented Orange 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 legislative bodies the final word over voters.”
Developers and investors are salivating. Homeowners who may see an opportunity to cash in on their residential investment might be disappointed. They 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, developers can outbid families looking for a home and replace a single residence with up to 10 units, with no pesky local ordinances to work around, no environmental impact reports to produce, and no public hearings to endure.

The bills must still pass the assembly and may go back to the senate. Assemblyman Steven Choi represents Villa Park, North Tustin, the canyons and most of Orange. Dave Min is the area’s state senator. Readers are encouraged to contact both.