Four LA County cities sue state on SB9’s split resi lots

Redondo Beach, Torrance, Carson and Whittier file challenge over density push

(L-R) Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey, Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri, Carson Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes, and Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand (Getty, iStock, City of Torrence)
(L-R) Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey, Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri, Carson Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes, and Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand (Getty, iStock, City of Torrence)

Four Los Angeles cities have challenged a state law that strips local control over zoning for single-family homes and neighborhoods.

The cities of Redondo Beach, Torrance, Carson and Whittier have filed a petition against Attorney General Rob Bonta to challenge Senate Bill SB9, which allows single-family lots to be split for development of two to four houses.

The petition asks a court to find the law in violation of the state constitution and ban its enforcement.

“SB 9 strips cities of their local land use authority and in essence eliminates single-family residential zones,” Carson Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes said in a statement. It “takes away the power of cities to respond to the housing crisis in meaningful and practical ways that will best suit the unique circumstances facing each local community.”

Despite opposition from hundreds of California cities, Gov. Gavin Newsom on January 1 signed into law SB 9, which permits development of up to four residential units on single-family lots across California.

Its backers say it will allow homeowners to ease the state’s housing shortage while protecting tenants from displacement. They say it creates a path for homeowners to establish multi-generational equity, while creating new housing locations for residents normally priced out of the market.

California must build 2.5 million homes by 2030 to address the current housing shortage, according to state housing officials. Of those, nearly half – or at least 1 million – should be affordable to low-income households.

There were 588,344 new homes built throughout California within the past eight-year housing plan period, less than half its goal. Bonta criticized the legal challenge to SB9, and stressed that cities need to cooperate with the state to help solve the housing crisis.

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“SB 9 is an important tool to combat California’s statewide housing crisis by promoting supply and affordability,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to defending this important law in court, and we will not be deterred from our ongoing efforts to enforce SB 9 and other state housing laws.”

Opponents of the state law say it’s too general to actually help cities tackle the housing shortfall. Not only does it strip zoning control from local planners, they say. It also fails to consider the additional traffic, public safety and infrastructure needs required by the added density.

They say SB 9 also will raise home and land values in urban areas, making it harder for first-time homebuyers. Furthermore, the petition argues, the bill does not require the newly created homes or lots to have any affordability covenants, or to be restricted to moderate- or lower-income households.

Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand said SB 9 will allow developers to avoid environmental planning – without requiring affordable units.

“SB9 is the biggest upzoning and circumvention of proper environmental planning in the history of California with zero requirements that affordable housing get built,” Brand said in a statement. “This is nothing but a huge giveaway to investors and the building industry while circumventing proper planning by local agencies.”

The four cities behind this week’s petition are charter cities, with their own municipal constitutions. Attorneys behind the petition say a second challenge to SB9 is expected in coming days to be filed by general law cities, including Rancho Palos Verdes and Hesperia.

Meanwhile, more than 30 cities are creating ordinances to water down SB9.

[Orange County Register] – Dana Bartholomew

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