Your neighborhood is in California’s crosshairs

T. Keith Gurnee

OPINION by T. KEITH GURNEE

Your neighborhood has a target on its back and your state Legislature is taking direct aim at fundamentally changing it right now. Yet too few San Luis Obispo County residents are even aware of what is about to happen to them.

What would it mean to you if a real estate speculator bought the house next door you and replaced it with four to eight units on two new parcels without notice, with inadequate parking, and with no parking whatsoever if the property is within ½ mile walking distance of a transit stop. What would it mean to your privacy if all the backyard and front yard trees are removed and replaced with people overlooking your home just 4 feet away from your property.

Would you be surprised to hear your city council member tell you “There’s nothing we can do about it?” Well, that council member would be telling you the truth if SB 9 becomes law.

SB 9 (Atkins) is a direct state-sponsored attack on California’s single-family neighborhoods and the self-determination of its local governments. On May 26, 2021, the State Senate passed SB 9 and forwarded it to the State Assembly for its consideration.

It will now be heard by the Assembly Local Government Committee on Wednesday, June 9. Meanwhile, a growing number of individuals, organizations, and neighborhood and homeowner groups are working together to defeat it. It is in that house that SB 9 must be defeated if your neighborhood is to remain livable.

SB 9 is the worst of at least seven bad housing bills that include SB 10, SB 478, SB 8, AB 1401, and AB 1322 that are threatening California’s neighborhoods.

Concocted and pushed by special interest legislators, SB 9 is simply the wrong solution to the wrong problem. California doesn’t have a market rate housing crisis. It has a dire housing affordability crisis. Yet SB 9 does nothing about this real crisis while maximizing and promoting high-end market rate housing.

What SB 9 will do

SB 9 would allow “urban lot splits” to divide existing residential lots in single-family zones into two parcels and develop them with at least two units each resulting in up to four units where one home once existed. Moreover, since SB 9 would not prohibit local governments from issuing permits for ADU’s and JADU’s on urban lot splits, it would make for a total of four more units for a sum total of eight units where one home once existed on one lot.

SB 9 is a state mandated dictate that will affect every single-family neighborhood (except in historic districts) throughout California, including every one of its 482 cities and 58 counties. By  increasing the development potential of every single-family parcel in California, SB 9 will further jack up the value of every home at a time when housing prices are soaring out of control.

This will only push the American dream of home ownership further and further away from younger Californians who won’t be able to compete with well-financed real estate speculators in buying a home.

SB 9 pays lip service to the housing affordability crisis, noting “that ensuring access to affordable housing (emphasis added) is a matter of statewide concern and not a municipal affair”, a provision that will apply to all cities including charter cities. This is the disingenuous excuse the state Legislature uses to evade its responsibility to reimburse local governments for state-mandated programs. But what’s really galling about this provision is that SB 9 will do nothing to produce or fund affordable housing.

SB 9 is a really bad idea. It’s a solution in search of the wrong problem. The real problem of housing affordability will only be made far worse by SB 9.

It’s time for Californians to rise up against this legislative overreach and defeat this and other terrible pieces of misguided housing legislation. Contact your State assembly member now and make your objections heard before the State Assembly votes on this bill. The livability of your neighborhood depends upon it.

T. Keith Gurnee is a member of the Board of Directors of Livable California, a statewide nonprofit organization representing thousands of Californians fighting to protect their neighborhoods and for the self-determination of local governments. He is also a professional planner and urban designer, a former San Luis Obispo council member, and past president of the California Planning Roundtable.

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