New SB9 law could shape Berkeley’s plan to eliminate single-family zoning

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Credit: Pete Rosos

When Gov. Gavin Newsom enacted a bill allowing landowners to add new housing units to plots long zoned only for single-family homes, he brought in California cities a discussion of neighborhood changes to low density that started in Berkeley earlier. This year.

Local planners are now struggling to understand precisely how the state’s new law, known as SB9, will influence Berkeley’s efforts to rewrite its zoning codes. But while SB9 was the most controversial housing legislation to come out of Sacramento this year, and nearly 14,000 properties in Berkeley could be eligible to build additional units under the law, city officials and Experts who have analyzed the legislation say it will likely have only a modest impact on new developments.

“There is currently a tendency to pretend that (SB9) is going to be the miracle cure or that it is going to destroy everything – and it is neither,” said Lori Droste, board member of Berkeley. “It’s one of the tools in our tool belt for dealing with the housing affordability crisis. “

SB9, which Newsom signed days after surviving the September 14 recall election, allows owners to divide their plot into two lots and build two housing units on each lot, in many cases allowing up to four housing units in areas where only one could be built before.

In broad outline, it’s a similar concept to what Berkeley City Council approved in March. This resolution, co-authored by Droste, called for changes allowing the creation of “equitable neighborhood-scale housing” with multiple housing units on plots now zoned R1 or R1A. The council’s mostly symbolic vote, which gained national attention because Berkeley was the first city in the country to adopt restrictions on single-family families in 1916 as a means of racist exclusion, launched a lengthy public process to change the code zoning and put these concepts into practice.

David Garcia, policy director at UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, said the new state law “creates a baseline” for authorizing new multi-family housing on single-family plots across California.

And, Garcia said, it gives cities that want to allow for denser development the option to “be a little more generous” with their own rules – which Berkeley seems likely to do. Guidelines passed by city council earlier this year are more permissive than SB9: While state law only allows two duplexes on a divided lot, the Berkeley resolution calls for allowing construction of two, three or four units. buildings, as well as “other forms of construction of similar scale” to surrounding houses.

“In some areas I think SB9 will be sufficient,” Droste said. “We need to determine the areas where it is a floor and where we might want to allow quads, bungalow courts and the like.”

Staff at Berkeley’s Planning and Development Department say they are still seeking clarification on how to implement SB9 and what kind of impact it might have on the city’s efforts to rewrite its zoning code.

“It’s kind of where we were headed anyway with the end of exclusionary zoning,” said Grace Wu, senior planner in the Berkeley Planning and Development Department. “But the details and the details, we have to work on.”

Despite all the debate that SB9 and the Berkeley resolution sparked, it’s also unclear how many new homes these efforts to slightly increase the density of single-family neighborhoods will create as California seeks solutions to its housing crisis.

A Terner Center analysis from SB9 that Garcia co-authored estimated that 13,800 properties in Berkeley would become eligible for new development under the law, out of 17,700 single-family plots in the city. The law provides a number of exemptions – plots must be at least 2,400 square feet to be eligible for a lot share, and the rules do not apply in historic neighborhoods or high fire risk areas . Among several provisions aimed at preventing displacement, subdivision projects cannot alter or destroy units that have been occupied by a tenant in the past three years or that are designated as affordable housing.

From these eligible plots, the Terner Center estimated that it would be economically possible to build approximately 1,100 additional housing units in Berkeley that would have been banned prior to SB9. That would be a sizable chunk of the nearly 9,000 new housing units the city is due to plan to add between 2023 and 2031 – but Garcia noted that there is no guarantee that an economically viable project will actually be built, and the number of units eventually created is likely to be much lower.

“We just looked at which pencils,” he said. “It’s a major project, and a lot of homeowners won’t necessarily be motivated to do it, even if it’s financially beneficial.


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