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State housing bills evoke fears, debate among city leaders, residents

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Rendering Courtesy of Jeff Kalban/United Neighbors
SB 9 and SB 10 opponents fear the worst with the latest state bills aimed at streamlining approvals.

They keep coming – state bills aimed at increasing the housing supply by overriding local zoning to generate units more quickly.

The latest proposed legislation, State Senate bills 9 and 10, is generating strong reactions among Los Altos and Los Altos Hills leaders and residents. The two bills are similar to SB 1140 and SB 902, respectively, which failed to pass last year. SB 9 and SB 10 are currently being discussed in State Senate committees.

SB 9 would allow the splitting of single-family residential lots into two lots of equal size. The change could allow at least four units across the split lot, and the potential for more with accessory dwelling units. SB 9 isn’t necessarily focused on allowing duplexes, as has been reported.

“SB 9 neither requires nor forbids that the units on a given ‘split’ of a lot be connected or not,” said Los Altos Vice Mayor Anita Enander. “‘Duplexes’ is the colloquial term being used by politicians, but the word actually never appears in the proposed law.”

SB 10 would allow a streamlined rezoning process on infill sites to allow up to 10 units without California Environmental Quality Act review.

The bills have generated some support among local housing advocates, but also vocal opposition, particularly in semirural Los Altos Hills, where lots are 1-acre minimums.

“If passed, SB 9 and SB 10 will remove local control of zoning regulations and allow multi-family units everywhere,” said Hills resident Ann Duwe in a recent letter to the Town Crier.

Proponents of the legislation see the negative reactions as based on false conclusions.

“(SB 9) encourages smaller, more affordable homes and gentle density,” said Anne Paulson of the Los Altos Affordable Housing Alliance. “SB 9 would not overrule Los Altos’ setback, floor-area ratios and height regulations. I think (opponents) want to believe SB 9 would do this, so they assert it’s true.”

As for SB 10, Paulson said: “It provides that cities that want to upzone a lot to allow 10 or fewer homes, in certain kinds of areas, don’t have to do environmental impact reports. That’s it, nothing more.”

Enander, who opposes SB 9, said there is nothing in it requiring the housing to be affordable. In fact, opponents contend it would drive up the cost of housing.

She also pointed to SB 9 problems with setbacks (a maximum 4 feet in the rear and side yards) and parking requirements (one space for each house or duplex, no spaces required if lots are within a half-mile of public transit).

Enander added that front setbacks and height limits are unclear in the current bill.

Another overarching concern, opponents said, is the “one-size-fits-all” approach of SB 9 that doesn’t take into account the makeup of individual communities.

Councils take stand

Both the Los Altos and Los Altos Hills city councils are on record opposing SB 9. Los Altos opted March 9 to oppose unless amended, while Los Altos Hills voted to oppose March 18.

Speakers sounded off on the bill at the March 9 Los Altos City Council meeting.

“I agree with the spirit of this bill,” said resident Renee Rashid. “I hope to have all our cities address the housing issue instead of shirking our duties.”

SB 9 is a tool to help address the housing crisis, according to Councilmember Jonathan Weinberg.

“We’ve had local control for decades and we haven’t done anything about it,” he said.

But Enander countered: “Cities should have the right to determine their own zoning. … This measure would give away that right.”

Los Altos Hills Mayor Kavita Tankha said March 18 she wants to galvanize residents by educating them on what SB 9 could mean for Los Altos Hills.

“I’d like residents to know what’s coming their way because this is a regime change,” Tankha said. “This will allow eight to 10 homes on each single plot of land if they desire to have them.”

Paulson said such a number would not be allowed because cities still have say on approval of ADUs. But Tankha said impacts on city services, on-street parking and other infrastructure would alter the town’s landscape, if not overnight. She saw increased housing density play out in her former home of New Delhi.

“It was a disaster,” she said.

Tankha suggested last month that hillside communities like Los Altos Hills, close to wooded areas, should unite to ask for a “carve-out” in the laws, exempting them due to increased fire dangers as a result of the expected impact in housing densities.

To read the text of SB 9 and SB 10, visit leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.

The Los Altos Hills residents’ group Hills 2000 has scheduled a virtual town hall 7:30 p.m. today to discuss SB 9 and SB 10 and their potential impacts. To participate, visit bit.ly/LAHTownHallSB9-10.

Members of the Los Altos Affordable Housing Alliance are preparing support documents for their website. Visit losaltosaffordablehousing.org.

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