Los Angeles, CA

California’s single-family zoning policy is “killing local business”

Jano le Roux

"Single-family zoning should be banned in California - it is bad for small businesses, bad for the environment, and expensive for everyone," Tracey James an economist in Mountain View shares. Newsom signed two bills into law that would support the development of infrastructures for urban housing, which is aimed at reducing California’s increasing housing cost. However, infrastructures for urban housing may worsen the economic situation in local communities.

California is a state with three out of the ten most unaffordable cities in America for local people. In San Diego, Denver, and Sacramento homes are unaffordable to more than half of the residents. In total, 2.4 million people in California alone can’t afford their own homes.

Photo by Aaron Kato on Unsplash

The first, Senate Bill 9, allows for the construction of several dwelling units on the property that was previously zoned for just one. SB 10 permits for more intensive construction near public transportation routes including bus and rail lines.

Tracey James an economist in Mountain View, California shares the following:

“Single-family zoning in California is bad for small businesses. When cities like Oakland and Berkeley use their zoning authority to prohibit new businesses from opening in residential neighborhoods, they kill jobs and prevent entrepreneurs from starting small businesses. It creates an environment where people must drive to go where they need to be.”

Here’s how to understand the ideas and the new legislation.

What is single-family zoning, and how does it work?

Let’s start with zoning and then go on to the other components of the word. Zoning governs how land may be utilized and what can be constructed in certain areas. Is it possible to start a company on a specific piece of land? That region has been zoned as a commercial zone. Is it possible to build a house or a condominium complex there? That is what residential zoning is all about. Mixed-use zoning is common in downtown areas, with ground-floor retail enterprises and residential apartments in the high-rise above.

A residential neighborhood where just one dwelling unit may be constructed on a particular piece of land is known as single-family zoning. Consider a house with no shared walls — not a duplex, triplex, or multiunit complex — as a Southern California suburbia classic. It’s almost likely a single-family home if it has a driveway, garage, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and front, back, and side yards.

For example, in the city of Los Angeles, single-family zoning is designated as R1 — which means one residential unit per lot. R2 (two residential units on a lot plus other uses) and R3 (three residential units on a lot plus other uses) are two additional zoning classifications (which can include boarding houses and childcare facilities). There are many more names and variants.

Single-family houses account for almost two-thirds of all dwellings in California. According to a UC Berkeley study, up to three-quarters of the state’s developable land is currently zoned exclusively for single-family dwellings.

Similarly, single-family dwelling is an important element of Southern California mythology.

Single-family-only zoning, according to proponents of the recent revisions to state legislation, is a remnant of the past that is no longer acceptable. It began as a segregationist tactic in Berkeley a century ago to prevent a Black-owned dance hall from opening near a white-only neighborhood.

Supporters of eliminating single-family-only zoning say that in a state where housing is so scarce, opening up areas to greater development would allow for the construction of less costly homes. According to the California Association of Realtors, the median sales price for a single-family house in July was $811,000.

Single-family zoning supporters say they’re worried about how increasing density would alter the nature of peaceful communities and impact property values. Some wonder where extra utility resources for greater homes would come from in a state where there is both drought and a strain on the electrical system. Some worry that the market will be controlled by developers seeking to make a quick buck by constructing showy new homes as cheaply as possible and renting them out for top price, speeding up gentrification while doing little to solve the underlying problem of housing affordability.

SB 10 makes no modifications to local land-use regulations. Instead, it allows local governments to alter zoning regulations considerably more rapidly to allow housing projects with up to 10 units in regions well-served by mass transportation or in metropolitan areas that are already primarily zoned for residential use.

Local governments already have the authority to alter their zoning, but the process is expensive and time-consuming since it is governed by the California Environmental Quality Act. SB 10 allows for such modifications without triggering a CEQA assessment, but multiunit developments proposed in the new zones would still be subject to the legislation.

Furthermore, according to a recent study by the Terner Center for Housing at UC Berkeley, the measure would result in the addition of just a tiny proportion of residential lots, simply because the additional development would not make economical sense in most locations. Only 5.4 percent of the state’s 7.5 million single-family lots would be suitable for development, according to the center.

Nonetheless, a tiny fraction of the 7.5 million lots might result in a large number of additional houses. According to the center’s research, the legislation will result in the construction of 714,000 additional units throughout the state in the future years, with a higher-than-average concentration in Los Angeles. The decision to subdivide and create duplexes will be influenced by a variety of variables, including local regulatory obstacles and construction costs.

The pressure that the Legislature has already put on local governments to construct additional homes may be a more significant issue. SB 35 gives cities and counties less power to oppose multiunit housing projects that bring more affordable housing to urban areas if their land-use rules do not meet the demands of their Regional Housing Needs Assessment — a state-mandated projection of what it will take to house the growing local population.

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