Sunday Commentary: Cities Are Resisting New Duplex Housing Law – Will It Have Enough Teeth to Survive?

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – If you want to understand why we remain in a severe housing crisis in California, look no further than a CalMatters article from earlier in the week, which reported that while SB 9 has meant very little in terms of housing production, it has spawned a lot of resistance from cities across the state.

The article reports that cities “have pushed back against the state with ordinances that would severely curb what property owners can build.”  The Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) told the publication that “it has received complaints about 29 such cities” and plans to investigate.  “If it determines cities are indeed defying state housing laws, the department will send letters that offer technical assistance, and request a plan to fix those issues within 30 days.”

Stop or I’ll say stop again?

According to David Zisser, who leads the newly-created Housing Accountability Unit, they hope they won’t have to issues letters to all the cities.

“By the time we send out a few letters, my hope is that jurisdictions will start to see themselves in those letters and start to make corrections to their own ordinances,” he told CalMatters.

If they fail to respond at that point, the AG’s office would step in.  They have done so with Pasadena and Woodside so far.  Bonta told Pasadena last month they could face a lawsuit if they didn’t reverse course. In a response letter, the city’s mayor said they are in full compliance with the law, CalMatters reports.

But here’s the rub: “The state housing department doesn’t have authority to enforce the duplex law, according to Zisser, which is why the cities on their list will be investigated for defying the 16 housing statutes under their purview, one of which limits a city’s ability to restrict the development of new housing.”

This is exactly the problem—if the only recourse is taking them to court, they can drag this issue out for years, waiting for the political tide to change.

One example the article listed was Temple City—an LA suburb of 36,000 with a median home value nearing $1 million.

That city created a new law in December—just before the new state law took effect “with a list of more than 30 development and design standards property owners must meet in order to develop new homes under the state’s new duplex-friendly law.”

“What we’re trying to do here is to mitigate the impact of what we believe is a ridiculous state law,” said councilmember Tom Chavez during a Dec. 21 city council meeting.

Another councilmember, William Man, said that traditional single-family zoning “is what has always attracted people to Temple City.

“SB 9, at least in principle, is dismantling that before our eyes,” he said.

According to the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund the count of cities with restrictive ordinances is far higher—about 55 cities.

“It’s pretty clear the intent is to limit the use of SB 9 as much as possible,” said the group’s executive director Dylan Casey.

“With few exceptions, these are mostly the very expensive, very high- income suburbs that are rushing to prevent implementation of SB 9,” Casey said.

The result though is clear—“While the duplex law was a nail-biter in the Legislature, and continues to incite resistance among cities, it has barely made a dent in housing production. Planners in Bay Area cities haven’t heard a peep from property owners looking to split their parcels or build a duplex.”

Senator Scott Wiener noted “the law has only been in effect for 90 days, and resistance from cities is just a feature of housing legislation in the state.

“It’s not surprising at all that there will be resistance and cities will try to find loopholes,” he said. “We just need to enforce the law, and we now have the attorney general and (the housing department) willing to do that, plus private litigants who will sue if need be. And if it turns out that there are loopholes that need to be closed, we can do that.”

In addition, cities are using legal challenges as well.

As reported previously, “A group of four LA County cities, led by wealthy Redondo Beach, filed a lawsuit March 29 in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the attorney general’s office, claiming the state ‘eviscerated’ cities’ land use control.”

In response, Bonta said, “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.”

But here’s the thing—the opposition is running the clock here.  Right now, they know that there is strong support for finding ways to address the housing crisis.  Governor Newsom and AG Bonta have both made this a priority.  But at some point the winds will calm, and the issue will recede.

In the meantime, I can’t help wondering if we spent as much time trying to address the housing crisis at the local level as some communities have spent trying to fight new state regulations, we might not have this problem to begin with.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith Olson

    In meantime, I can’t help wondering if we spent as much time trying to address the housing crisis at the local level as some communities have spent trying to fight new state regulations, we might not have this problem to begin with.

    We would still have the problem.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Might as well just repeat the article from yesterday, though there’s plenty of others like this one:

      Ron Oertel April 16, 2022 at 10:39 am

      Meanwhile, not a peep from the housing activists (or their politician friends) regarding the actual cause of the “housing crisis”:

      The planners pointed to a few factors that have created this situation – and, in a remarkable nod to economic reality, one of the slides showed that a big part of the problem is the demand side, not the supply side. The city, and the region, have seen a huge influx of people making very high salaries; in fact, while the price of housing rose 98 percent, the total income in the city rose about 90 percent.

      But as Fewer notes, those pay hikes didn’t trickle down to most local workers. Cops, teachers, and other city workers – the people who make the city function every day – saw about two percent pay hikes. Most of the new income came, she said, from “imported workers.”

      Sup. Jane Kim – again, moving away from modern market orthodoxy, promoted by the Mayor’s Office and City Planning Department, argued that housing should be “fully regulated” and not seen as a commodity that can generate great wealth. “If you want to make a ton of money, don’t go into housing,” she said.

      And locally – there’s the DiSC proposal, which will create demand for 1,269 housing units (beyond the 460 units planned onsite – on prime farmland).

  2. Alan Miller

    Senator Scott Wiener noted  . . . “We just need to enforce the law, and we now have the attorney general and (the housing department) willing to do that, plus private litigants who will sue if need be.

    So, the lawyer full employment program 😐

    Senator Scott Wiener . . . “And if it turns out that there are loopholes that need to be closed, we can do that.”

    What a piece of work Wiener is.

  3. Rick Entrikin

    It will be interesting to see if the Republicans are sufficiently savvy to pull together all of the condescending, totalitarian words and actions by Wiener and Newsom to claim some political victories in California this November.   The skies may be blue now, but many Californians are seeing red.

  4. Keith Y Echols

    As usual, we have two fundamental beliefs about an issue that come come into conflict.

    1. Oh my stars and garters!  Those poor people that can’t fulfill their god given right to have housing available so that they can live wherever they want.

    2.  Those goose stepping authoritarian horrible power mad government politicians telling us what we can and can’t do in our own community!

    The interesting thing is that these two fundamental beliefs aren’t diametrically opposed to each other.  There are plenty of people that support more housing and even more affordable housing as long as it isn’t forced down their throats from some far off place like Sacramento (it’s easy for people in Davis to forget how much Sacramento feels like a foreign power to many since Sac is a close neighbor).  They’ll also support laws that threaten their own backyards (even if the likelihood of any of these new laws directly effecting them is slim).

    Legally speak…yeah, the state government generally has the legal authority to force many kinds of changes on local governments.  But does it have the political power?  That remains to be seen.  And there’s a good argument (that was hinted at in the article) that the political tides can quickly change.  So the pro housing folks may win some battles right now with some of their mandatory changes.  But in the long run the political tides may turn and ultimately all these legal changes will not amount to much in the end.

    Where I’m going with this is that I don’t think forcing these new policies and laws down people’s throats is the solution.  Yes they have the legal power.  But all the righteousness that those behind these new laws have are being mistaken by progressives as good political policy.

    So here are my suggestions:

    Mandate that all new business parks are required to have a percentage of housing to commercial square feet.  That is located within one mile of the business park.  Mandate that a certain amount of retail must be included.  Mandate that there must be a grocery store within a mile of the new development or actually integrated into the residential and commercial development.   Yes, I get how I said that the problem with the current strategies is forcing state mandates on communities.  But I should say it’s more specifically, state mandates that a large number of communities will actively resist.  I suspect that you’re less likely going to trigger the NIMBYs if you mandate housing where some strip mall, shopping center (the Umall being the exception….Davis is a stickier place than most for even infill development) or business park is going up….especially ones on the periphery.

    But the most important thing the state can do for housing is to CREATE NEW COMMUNITIES.  How can they do that?  Fund the infrastructure necessary to create new or expand county communities.  New water systems (where they get the water?  That’s another discussion), sewer treatment plants, electrical, police, fire and roads…..  Zone for new commercial and industrial areas that require residential units to be created (much like the above mandate for existing cities).

    In addition to the creation of more state and local government directly owned and managed affordable housing properties...state and local government can partner with businesses/industries to create more corporate owned housing for their lowest earning (bottom 10%?) full time employees?  So when Genentech moves in; funding and benefits can be made for the housing of Genentech’s custodians, entry level admin assistants…etc…  Ski resorts are creating housing for their seasonal employees.  I do not see why other industries can’t be incentivized to do the same for their lower level earning employees.


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