How some cities are legally undermining SB9

California’s Senate Bill 9, also known as the HOME Act, allows owners of a single-family residential lot to potentially build four homes after splitting the parcel in two. “Localities have the option to adopt [SB 9] as-is without the pressure of implementing a local ordinance,” write Muhammad Alameldin and David Garcia in a report published June 8 by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation.

But while some cities and towns are fine-tuning their local ordinances to accord with the new law, others are doing what they can to “stymie meaningful new homebuilding” that might otherwise occur under SB 9.

The Terner Center report analyzed “how cities are implementing SB 9 differently” and how these local “regulations might facilitate new home construction or hinder it.”

“To better understand how each city’s specific requirements might impact SB 9 uptake,” the authors examined “10 cities with SB 9 implementing ordinances. The cities were selected based on size and geography to reflect different types of communities.”

The report includes an 11-column table that displays how the 10 cities are implementing SB 9. The analysis found, for example, that six of the 10 cities adopted height limits of 20 feet or less for housing constructed under SB 9, and at least one city adopted “specific allowable exterior materials and architectural designs” that could affect affordability.

Other cities require “deed-restricted affordable housing for HOME Act projects,” something that seems laudable but which “may make it challenging — or impossible — for projects to financially pencil without subsidies or offsets.”

Among other locally enacted regulations, the authors found requirements for significant easements, requirements for open spaces or courtyards between units, and the mandated planting of mature trees or bushes. Such local, objective, design standards, note the authors, “can create a legal loophole that moves away from the intended ministerial approval” of SB 9 proposals “and revert the process of splitting a lot to a project-by-project local review.”

Read the full analysis here.

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