By David M. Greenwald
There has been a lot of talk about SB 9 and whether voters will rise up and lead an initiative to repeal it. Proponents of the law hope that by requiring cities to allow greater density in single-family neighborhoods through duplexes and even four units on each property, it can alleviate the housing crisis.
But opponents of the law believe it will destroy single-family neighborhoods and forced density into communities that were not built for it.
The measures have seen strong pushback with communities across the state as well as the League of California Cities opposing the bills.
The LA Times reported this week that, since passage, many cities have been attempting to blunt or block the effects, including mandating parking spots or imposing unrealistic height or size limits.
Moreover, there is an effort underway to put a measure on the November 2022 ballot that would not just overturn Senate Bills 9 and 10 but would prohibit the state from ever overriding local zoning regulations again.
While some groups have organized to oppose such new laws, it is hard to know whether there is actually enough anger, let alone money, to fuel a true initiative drive that has a chance to succeed.
One thing we really don’t have a great sense of—what do voters want? After all, while it is true that some residents in single-family neighborhoods are opposed to the change, unless there is actually a live proposal for new development, the threat is more theoretical than real.
Moreover, we are in the middle of a housing crisis where many are priced out of the very neighborhoods that this law would impact.
Amid predictions of a backlash comes some data—granted, out of LA—that at least LA voters actually do want more higher density housing in single-family neighborhoods.
Contrary to the expectations of some, a poll at least of LA County voters show them to favor new state laws allowing greater density in single-family neighborhoods.
“The idea of owning a house with a backyard has long been part of the ‘California dream.’ But the California reality for most people is renting an apartment or house they can barely afford,” an LA Times editorial pointed out on Sunday.
This year, the California legislature approved SB 9 and SB 10 that will allow for some increased density. They were signed into law by the governor in September.
“Judging by the backlash from homeowners and city governments trying to put restrictions on the new laws, you would think the laws were mandating high-rises in single-family-zoned communities,” the editorial board writes. “They’re not.”
They note: “We’re talking about allowing duplexes, fourplexes and small apartment buildings in residential neighborhoods, which used to be a common practice. And, in the case of SB 9, a property owner must live in one of the units for three years after a lot is split.”
At least in LA County however, despite the strong criticism, the voters actually support SB 9 and SB 10.
The LA Times poll conducted with the LA Business Council Institute found that, by a 55-27 margin, the voters support SB 9 and, by a 68-13 margin, they support SB 10.
Moreover, the question did not attempt to whitewash SB 9.
“SB 9 would offer homeowners new options to build up to four additional units on their lots by adding granny units, or by converting their home to a duplex, triplex, or fourplex, regardless of whether the property is currently zoned as single-family only. Do you support or oppose this new state law?”
Are LA residents going to be different from people who, say, live in Davis? Of course. But people forget that while existing homeowners may oppose these changes, there are a huge number of voters who are renters and being priced out in terms of both rental prices and out of homeownership, and that is what is driving housing the housing crisis.
The LA Times opines, “It’s outrageous that city governments and community groups are going against the will of the people who want more housing. It’s shameful that there is a move to undermine two laws that will allow a modest increase in housing in neighborhoods that have been reserved for decades for single-family homes.”
This is how housing crises happen and continue. People assume that the voters live in similar circumstances and share the values of the most vocal people in the room. With this issue, that might not be the case.
As the Times put it: “Los Angeles is not a castle. Homeowners cannot pull up the drawbridge and order the hoi polloi to go somewhere else. The city and the county have to find a way to accommodate moderate growth in housing in all neighborhoods.”