By David M. Greenwald
My view on SB 9 continues to be that the bill probably isn’t likely to move the housing needle much. I often wonder if these kinds of bills are really worth it given the amount of animosity that they bring. One question I think we should be asking – should we have single family zoning of this sort?
I understand the argument that if you buy a home in a neighborhood, you don’t expect there to be changed circumstances. But I question whether that is a realistic expectation in our world. I also question whether having a duplex or split lot duplex built next to your home – assuming it adheres to mass and scale guidelines – is really a changed circumstance.
One reason I am leaning in the direction of support is the history of single family neighborhoods to exclude people of color but also the fact that they tend to generate housing that is unaffordable to huge swaths of people.
There was a pretty good article in CalMatters this week, which I thought laid out a few interesting tidbits that should get thrown into this conversation.
Report Manuela Tobias reports: “To lessen concerns from more than 100 cities and neighborhood groups that oppose the bill, Atkins on Monday added a few amendments that give local jurisdictions some veto power over units that threaten public health and safety and curtail potential speculation.”
She also cited, as I have, the study that found that the bill “would probably have a negligible impact on the California housing crisis, at least in the short-term. As for the nightmare scenario described by opponents? There simply isn’t enough evidence to back that up, either.”
The point we made yesterday you really don’t have enough space to split a lot and put duplexes on it in most neighborhoods. And the cost of redevelopment and construction will likely prohibit even retroactive duplexes.
So: “Development would be realistic in only about 410,000 parcels in California at most, or 5.4% of land now occupied by single-family houses, according to a new study by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley based on the version of the bill without the new amendments.”
And one of the new amendments requires owner occupation for at least three years before they can split their property and build as many as four units, probably reduces that number further and eliminates the possibility of big companies speculatively buying up properties. The Terner Center find that cuts the potential number of new units by another 40,000 or so.
Tobias reports: “The analysis was conducted using current land values and development costs, so the number of feasible units could change. But Garcia said that was unlikely in the near-term. The study found that the typical property owner could not afford to build a second unit, much less a third or fourth.”
Other barriers: “The new split lot couldn’t be less than 1,200 square feet, and historic districts, fire hazard zones and some rural areas would be barred from development.”
“You would not see the wholesale bulldozing of single-family homes, as we’ve seen characterized in many of the public comments in committee hearings,” Garcia said. “There’s just no financial basis for that fear.”
Bottom line: yeah we can imagine nightmare situations but they actually seem impractical.
So you can easily turn it around on me. Why bother with this and I think it comes down to the next point and again, I think Tobias did a great job here.
“Single-family zoning, which SB 9 seeks to eliminate, has deeply racist roots,” she reports.
Seriously if people wanted to understand the root of my newfound support for housing, it’s the need to undo our racist legacy.
Nice job here by Tobias with the history.
Originally introduced in Berkeley in 1916, “the designation was used to block a Black-owned dance hall from moving into a primarily white neighborhood. The zoning not only precluded the dance hall, but also multifamily units more commonly occupied by people of color.”
She notes that single-family zoning was then adopted by cities across the country.
“So to many California housing advocates, eliminating what they call “exclusionary zoning” is a symbolic and necessary act,” she writes.
“This is about getting rid of symbols of segregation and racism,” said Kendra Noel Lewis, executive director of Sacramento’s Housing Alliance, “which supports a similar local zoning change to allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes throughout the city.”
The critics of SB 9 push back on this of course. That was then, this is now.
Jennifer Holden, who we have published here in the Vanguard, pushed back.
“We don’t live in fear of those other people moving in because we already are those people,” she said, pointing to the neighborhood’s mostly Asian and Hispanic demographics. “What would change is our way of life.”
I have no doubt this is true. This is no longer the 60s or 70s, white suburban people or even city dwellers don’t live in fear – generally at least – of the Black family moving in and fear, “there goes the neighborhood.”
The big problem here is that while I agree that looking at redlining and discriminatory zoning is important to looking at established racial and economic patterns in neighborhoods, Shelley v. Kraemer came in 1948. Our neighborhoods are more segregated now than then.
The real problem is that not most people living in suburban neighborhoods care if their neighbor is Black, Brown or purple, but rather that economic factors sort these neighborhoods along economic lines which leads to them sorting along racial lines.
So until you allow for neighborhoods to have a mix of housing types, and have affordable housing as well as affordability by size and scale, we are going to have segregated neighborhoods.
Thus the problem we face is systemic racism and exclusion, not people protesting the Black family moving in down the street. The good news is the 60s and 70s are over in that respect, the bad news is, we are still segregated. And that’s why I would likely lean toward favoring SB 9 – the chance to start cutting into that.