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SB 9 advances out of Assembly Local Government Committee despite strong Cal Cities opposition

June 9, 2021
The League of California Cities delivered the lead opposition testimony against SB 9 (Atkins) in today’s Assembly Local Government Committee.
Despite robust opposition from city officials, local government advocates, community advocates, and others, the committee passed SB 9 on a 5-1 vote, with two abstentions.  

SB 9, as presently drafted, would require cities to ministerially approve, without condition, discretion, or public input, a housing development containing two residential units on an individual parcel in single-family neighborhoods. Additionally, this measure would require local governments to ministerially approve an urban lot split, thus creating two independent lots that may be sold separately.

Nearly all cities are currently updating their housing plans to identify sites for more than two million new homes throughout California over the next eight years. SB 9 is a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to land use policy that would disregard this process and mandate more housing in existing single-family zones without any evidence that this measure would result in more affordable housing.

By forcing unproven policies upon cities that would undermine local planning, change the rules mid-stream, or conflict with the myriad of new housing laws recently passed that cities are now implementing, SB 9 is certain to cause disruption to cities trying to implement their state-certified housing plans.

Jason Rhine, Cal Cities Assistant Legislative Director, delivered the opposition testimony on behalf of California cities. “We can all agree that housing affordability and homelessness are among the most critical issues facing California cities,” said Rhine. “Unfortunately, SB 9 will not spur much needed housing construction in a manner that supports local flexibility, decision making, and community input.”

State-driven ministerial or by-right housing approval processes, like the ones outlined in SB 9, fail to recognize the extensive public engagement associated with developing and adopting zoning ordinances and housing elements that are certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

“SB 9 would ignore this long-standing, state-mandated housing planning process and instead force cities to approve new housing that may conflict with certified housing plans,” said Rhine.

Cal Cities has worked with the author and her staff for several months on amendments that would have addressed cities’ primary concerns with the bill. These proposed amendments included:
  • Clarify that a property owner using SB 9 is limited to constructing two residential units, not two residential units and additional accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on the same parcel.
  • Require a housing developer to acquire a building permit within one year of a lot split, so that speculators do not sell lots and never build homes.
  • Allow local governments to require adequate access for police, fire, and other public safety vehicles and equipment.
  • Prohibit developers from using SB 9 in very high fire hazard severity zones.
  • Allow cities to determine a range of lot sizes suitable for SB 9 development projects.
  • Ensure HCD provides Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) credit for production of SB 9 units.
  • Allow local governments to take into account local conditions such as hillsides, lot dimensions, natural hazards, available infrastructure, etc. when approving or denying housing project applications.
  • Allow local governments to continue to determine parking standards.
  • Ensure large-scale investors and builders do not exploit SB 9 provisions.
No agreement was reached, and as a result, Cal Cities changed its position on SB 9 from oppose unless amended to oppose. More than 175 cities have submitted letters of opposition or oppose unless amended since the bill’s introduction.

SB 9 now moves to the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee. Cal Cities urges all cities to call or submit a letter to their Assembly Members and urge them to oppose SB 9 and uphold local government decision-making and community involvement in housing plans.

A sample letter as well as Cal Cities’ opposition letter and bill language can be found at www.cacities.org/billsearch  by plugging SB 9 into the search function.

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