California cities rush to limit new law increasing density of single-family neighborhoods

Alexei Koseff

San Francisco Chronicle
Nov. 24, 2021Updated: Nov. 24, 2021 1:14 p.m.

Advocates of denser construction as a solution to California’s housing shortage scored a victory in September when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a long-sought law that will make it easier to build out existing neighborhoods by splitting lots, adding second units to the properties and converting homes into duplexes.

But the battle over SB9 — which could ultimately help add hundreds of thousands of homes across the state by allowing up to four units on some properties that had just one before — is ramping up again before the law takes effect in January, as cities that opposed the measure move to limit its impact on their communities.

Los Altos Hills, the affluent Silicon Valley town that maintains a standard of minimum one-acre lots to preserve a semi-rural character and where homes sell for millions of dollars, led the way last week when it adopted an urgency ordinance, likely the first in the state, restricting the type of housing that residents can build if they split their properties

The design regulations are allowed under the law as long as they are applied objectively — flexibility that local officials contend is necessary to protect the safety and priorities of their communities and that critics charge has become a loophole for hostile cities to exploit.

Activists who support SB9 say they are aware of more than a dozen other cities across California, from Sonoma to Redondo Beach, in various stages of development on similar plans. They argue communities are rushing to undermine the law by creating obstacles to build housing that do not exist for other projects.

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