Not just mountain lions: California cities gird to block state housing efforts

More than 30 cities are creating ordinances to water down SB9

Mayor Bill Brand (LinkedIn, iStock)
Mayor Bill Brand (LinkedIn, iStock)

Turns out mountain lions are the least of it.

Citing everything from shadows to shrubberies, more than 30 California cities are mobilizing to water down a state-mandated attempt to create more housing, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Such moves sparked nationwide headlines after the wealthy Silicon Valley suburb of Woodside tried – and failed – to stave off Senate Bill 9 by claiming to be a habitat for the big cats.

Housing advocacy group YIMBY Law counted at least three dozen communities that have passed or are considering passing ordinances that would limit SB9, the newspaper reported.

“Some cities just take it too far,” said Rafa Sonnenfeld, director of legal advocacy at YIMBY Law. “Putting too many standards in is death by 1,000 cuts and really makes it harder for this to be a law that can be used to create more affordable housing.”

SB9 is intended to increase density in single-family zoned areas across California, a response to the state’s exhausted housing stock. UC Berkeley’s Terner Center estimated SB9 would add 700,000 housing units to the current feasible development potential of 1.8 million, a 40 percent increase. California now adds about 100,000 units per year.

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Municipalities aren’t just working on their own — a proposed ballot initiative is making the rounds to restore land-use control to cities. Among those leading the initiative is Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand, who opposed the legislation. Brand says it will allow hedge funds to buy single-family homes and turn them into multi-unit investment properties.

“This is much bigger than Woodside or any other specific city’s approach to comply with SB9,” he said. “This is nothing but the biggest upzoning story in the history of the state, and here comes Wall Street.”

Among the efforts: Silicon Valley’s Cupertino passed an ordinance that would prevent owners from building new units if they cast shadow over more than 10 percent of a neighbor’s solar panel array – and require them to hire a licensed engineer to measure its size.

Los Altos Hills, in Santa Clara County, is limiting new units to 800 square feet, the minimum allowed under SB9, while requiring new units to also have sprinklers and a hedge of evergreen shrubs along the unit closest to the property line.

[SF Chronicle] — Gabriel Poblete

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Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguin (Sylvia Fredriksson/Flickr, iStock)
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