Senate Bill 9, the California Housing Opportunity and More Efficiency Act, passed the California Senate in May and on Thursday passed the Assembly with a bipartisan vote of 45-19. On Monday, the Senate once again passed it through concurrence and sent it on to the governor’s desk for approval.

The bill’s author, Toni Atkins, president pro tempore of the California Senate, a representative from San Diego, released a statement on Thursday saying that with the Assembly’s passage on Aug. 26 more families can now pursue their version of the California dream.

The bill was championed by housing advocates to address the state’s housing shortage, the affordability crisis, and to address homelessness. By allowing two units per parcel and permitting property owners to subdivide their lots, it could increase density to as many as four units per parcel. It will make it easier for property owners to develop accessory dwelling units to rent or to house family members.

Pacifica’s local representative, Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Kevin Mullin, voted in favor of it.

“The status quo will not allow us to address our growing affordable housing challenges,” wrote Mullin in an email to the Tribune. “While SB 9 is not an optimal solution, it does provide a modest opportunity to increase the availability of affordable housing. As a result of significant amendments, this bill now allows local governments the ability to deny the project if the building official then provides findings that a project presents hazardous conditions that cannot be mitigated, and it allows local governments to assess local impact fees as they see fit.

“Given that there is a limit with four units total that are allowed and that the applicant must occupy one of the housing units for a minimum of three years, I believe that SB 9 provides a reasonable opportunity to increase affordable housing across California,” he wrote.

State Sen. Josh Becker, who represents Pacifica, voted in favor as well. He said he has been in touch with Atkins, the bill’s author, about outcomes he would like to see from the bill.

“We all want our communities to be places where our children can stay and thrive, while our communities also are good citizens in our region,” wrote Becker in an email to the Tribune. “I’ve spoken with pro tem, her team, and legislative colleagues to move this bill more in that direction. Key changes have been made since I last voted on the bill. I look forward to studying the bill further as it returns to the Senate floor. I’m optimistic we have a better strategy for us to move the needle on affordable housing.”

Pacifica City Council and city staff opposed it and wrote a letter to Atkins asking for amendments. SB 9 requires cities and counties to ministerially approve, without condition or discretion, a housing development containing two residential units on an individual parcel in single family zones, said Assistant City Manager Tina Wehrmeister at the City Council meeting Aug. 23.

“SB 9 ignores the importance of local governments being able to plan and zone new projects in their communities based on public input and engagement and supporting local flexibility and local decision making,” said Wehrmeister.

In addition, SB 9 would require local governments to ministerially approve an urban lot split, thus creating two independent lots that may be sold separately, said Wehrmeister.

Pacifica’s letter in opposition to Atkins, sent Aug. 25 and signed by Mayor Sue Beckmeyer, reads, in part, “State-driven ministerial or by-right housing approval processes fail to recognize extensive public engagement associated with developing and adopting zoning ordinances and housing elements that are certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.”

The letter to Atkins states the amendments to date hadn’t gone far enough to meet Pacifica’s interests.

“Housing affordability and homelessness are among the most critical issues facing California cities,” the letter states, mimicking language in a sample letter from the California League of Cities. “Affordably priced homes are out of reach for many people and housing is not built fast enough to meet the current or projected needs of people living in the state. Cities lay the groundwork for housing production by planning and zoning new projects in their communities based on extensive public input and engagement, state housing laws and the needs of the building industry.”

The letter further states that Atkins’ desire to pursue a housing production proposal is appreciated, but as currently drafted SB 9 will not spur much needed housing construction in a manner that supports local flexibility, decision making and community input.

The letter states Pacifica is committed to being part of the solution to the housing shortfalls across income levels.

SB 9 would require all Coastal Act requirements be met, but would exempt a local agency from being required to hold public hearings for coastal development permit applications for housing developments and urban lot splits under SB 9, Wehrmeister said.

“This is not a good bill for Pacifica. We have a number of substandard lots in Pacifica. We have accessory dwelling units in place. That strategy will work for us. Not having a say for our city, not being able to know the constraints and implement them, is not good. This is not the right way to go. There are a lot of other cities that feel this is not the right way to go,” said Mayor Beckmeyer.

Gloria Stofan, speaking for Pacifica Housing 4 All, opposed SB 9.

“I heard from some members who felt the unintended consequences of SB 9 are grave. The housing elements are also at risk of spurring new construction that could easily lead to displacement unless communities choose to protect against that,” she wrote in an email to the Tribune. 

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