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Sacramento Report: SB 9 Still Alive, But Its Impact Might Be Limited

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The Legislature’s biggest swing at tackling the housing crisis is headed to a floor vote in the Assembly next week, but recent amendments and a closer look at the bill are raising questions about how significant an effect it could have in the first place.

The bill, SB 9, written by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, aims to chip away at single-family zoning across the state by letting landowners split their properties in two as a basic right, and to let them build duplexes on any lot, in effect making any property zoned for one home capable of hosting four homes instead.

SB 9 jumped one of the biggest hurdles in Sacramento this week when it advanced through the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, setting it up for a floor vote next week.

That came just days after Atkins amended the bill to appease opponents concerned it would increase real estate speculation by adding an owner-occupancy requirement. Now, property owners who take advantage of the law’s changes will need to sign an affidavit attesting that they will live in one of the homes as their primary residence for at least three years.

The trade-off for that protection, though, is that it is likely to limit the number of new homes produced.

Already, the law was facing significant questions on that front. As CalMatters covered in an in-depth look at the bill this week, the highest-profile housing bill in the state is unlikely to realize the dreams of its supporters [1], or the nightmares of its opponents.

That conclusion is consistent with research last year from the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, which analyzed how many new homes could be produced in California if the state enacted reforms that legalized fourplexes on properties currently zoned only for single-family homes. Not exactly what SB 9 does, but close.

It concluded [2] that such a change – and zoning reforms in general – don’t result in nearly the market-rate housing production supporters often hope, or detractors often fear. That’s because even after a property’s zoning is changed, only those on which development is economically feasible will even be considered for new housing. And on this property in which zoning is reformed and development is feasible, only a small portion are going to be sold or made available, because land transactions in general are infrequent. And properties that cross all three of those checkpoints still need to grapple with other issues like additional local development restrictions, labor supply, capital availability and whatever internal issues might arise for a developer.

“The result of the processes the funnel describes is that millions of market-feasible opportunities may yield relatively few built units, perhaps just a few thousand units every year,” the study reads.

Andrew Keatts

Enviros Take on Atkins, Hueso

San Diegans may already have received in their mailbox political mailers targeting two local politicians for their, as one political environmental advocacy group sees it, dismal record on climate policy that grapples with fossil fuel companies.

The California League of Conservation Voters, a group that began in the 1970s and meddles mostly in state politics, is accusing San Diego Sens. Ben Huseo and Toni Atkins of stopping or stalling important environmental legislation that would have slowed the climate crisis. But they’re mostly mad about a few bills that didn’t make it through the Legislature this year, and are pointing to Atkins and Hueso as being at fault for their role as gatekeepers of environmental policy.

Hueso chairs the senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

The group wanted Senate Bill 467 [3], written by San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener, to pass. It would have blocked new permits for oil and gas wells and required wells be surrounded by a 2,500-foot buffer zone. Hueso did not vote when an amended version of the bill came before the Natural Resources and Water Committee, and he voted for the measure when the committee reconsidered it, but it ultimately failed.

“This Senate in particular has been a really tough body. There isn’t a significant bill on the climate crisis that has (originated) and made it out of the senate in the last couple of years,” said Mary Creasman, CEO of the League of Conservation Voters.

The group also faults Atkins, who as president pro tem of the Senate appoints chairs, like Hueso, to committees and makes decisions about which bills are on the Senate’s agenda.

“The lack of leadership and even support for members who are leading these efforts is ultimately her responsibility as leader of the senate,” Creasman said.

Atkins is, however, pushing legislation this year [4] to address climate change, specifically a bill to address sea-level rise that would help raise money for coastal protection and direct state agencies to get organized around the issue.

Creasman acknowledged preparing for sea-level rise is important but said those efforts should be secondary to tackling the source of climate change, the burning of fossil fuels propped up by major corporations. The league supported a bill that would have mandated corporations that are publicly traded in California and worth over $1 billion to disclose their carbon emissions. That bill [5] stalled at the committee level.

“The Senate’s record of producing legislation that protects our state’s natural resources and mitigates climate change impacts is irrefutable, as are my own efforts to address the clear and present threat of climate change,” Atkins’ office wrote in response to the mailers.

MacKenzie Elmer

Golden State News