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According to U.S. census data, almost two-thirds of California residences are single-family homes. And a survey last year by the University of California, Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation found that much of the state’s developable land is zoned exclusively for single-family housing.
But SB 50, a nationally-watched bill pending in the state’s Legislature that could have changed that, hit a swift and unexpected setback last Thursday when Sen. Anthony Portantino (D), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, converted the measure to a two-year bill, effectively killing it for the year.
The measure, which would have required cities and counties in the state to allow up to a fourplex on much of the land currently zoned for single-family homes, came three years after California lawmakers passed a pair of bills intended to facilitate the construction of secondary housing units in residential backyards and one year after Minneapolis became the first major city in the nation to move away from single-family zoning.
Carol Galante, director of the Terner Center, said California’s partiality for single-family homes is inconsistent with other top state priorities like making housing more affordable and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“I do not think it’s possible to solve housing affordability problems and meet climate change goals without dealing with this issue of single-family homes only,” she said. “We have population growth. We have job growth. People need to live somewhere, and they’re now competing for a very limited supply.”
But the proposal also had powerful, vocal opponents.
Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and a former L.A. County supervisor, said eliminating single-family-only zoning in the state would make it less appealing to both current and potential future residents.
“When people around the world think of L.A., one of the things they think of is a home with a backyard,” he said. “I think much of it should be preserved.”
Passage of SB 50 wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of single-family homes and backyards in the state. Under the bill’s provisions, developers would still be able to build single-family homes, and existing single-family homes couldn’t be knocked down to make way for multi-family units without local government approval.
Mott Smith, a principal at Civic Enterprise Development in L.A., said those restrictions would likely limit the number of fourplexes going into single-family neighborhoods.
“I wish that it were less restrictive,” he said of the bill. “But at the same time, this is quite momentous: the abolition of single-family zoning in California.”
SB 50 would also potentially boost property tax collections. A committee analysis of the bill states: “When zoning rules change to allow more building, property values go up,” although the analysis also notes that Proposition 13, the constitutional property tax restrictions approved by the state’s voters in 1978, would limit how much government entities would benefit from such “upzoning.”
There is a slight chance the bill could return later this year, though it is far more likely the bill not be considered again until next year. With SB 50 likely dead for this year, affordable housing proponents are now turning their attention toward saving a suite of tenant-protection measures still pending in the Legislature. (LOS ANGELES TIMES, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET, CALMATTERS)