Two bills currently moving toward passage in the California State Legislature could change the character of neighborhoods across the state. If passed, Senate bills 9 and 10 will remove local control of zoning regulations and allow multifamily units everywhere. Residents should oppose both proposals. If passed, neither one will solve the housing shortage, certainly not the shortage of affordable or low-cost housing.
Both bills have the potential to destroy established neighborhoods by allowing developers to construct duplexes, fourplexes and other multifamily housing where single-family homes currently exist. The cost of providing schools, hospitals, libraries, water, sewers, parking, fire protection and police services will be left to each city.
Surely there is a better way. Why not build much-needed new housing on old, under-used commercial strips? According to Peter Calthorpe, a San Francisco-based urban planner, “The El Camino strip runs 43 miles through Silicon Valley and could provide 250,000 units of housing without displacing any existing neighborhoods.”
His recommendation is to build mixed-use structures, with retail on the ground floor and condos or apartments above. Such in-fill construction has been endorsed by numerous groups as a means of getting people close to jobs, transit and services without adding to urban sprawl. Another in-fill strategy is to convert empty office space to housing. Generally, in-fill construction is in commercial zones that require infrastructure along with construction.
No one doubts the need for additional housing in California. SB9 and SB10 are crude tools that increase density where it is least appropriate and lack provisions for the multitude of services necessary for dense development.
Our neighborhoods are at risk. If you feel alarmed and want to oppose SB9 and SB10, send a message now to State Sen. Josh Becker at sd13.senate.ca.gov/contact. Thoughts on the issue can also be emailed to Jitze Couperus ([email protected]), president of Hills2000, a local group opposing the legislation.
Ann Duwe is a Los Altos Hills resident.