At its January 4th meeting, Alameda City Council considered a Planning Board recommendation to amend the City’s municipal code to comply with Senate Bill 9 (SB9) requirements for single-family residential (R-1) zones. SB9 grants by-right approval of duplexes and lot splits in R-1 zones if they meet specific criteria.
Under SB9, property owners may now convert single-family homes into duplexes and split their properties in a process implemented entirely by City staff, without public notice or hearings or Planning Board review or assistance. The process is similar to obtaining a building permit. Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB9 into law on September 2021, and it went into effect on January 1, 2022.
Although the City is not required to adopt an ordinance to implement SB 9, staff recommended amending the R-1 zoning regulations to create clarity for staff, property owners, and the community. The R-1 District includes about 9500 parcels.
Planning, Building, and Transportation Director Andrew Thomas explained that under SB9 if R-1 property owners opt first to split their properties, the City could limit to two the number of housing units on each resulting parcel. For example, the owner might split their property, convert their home to a duplex, and add two more units on the other lot. They could then sell the second lot and its housing. They would have to maintain their property as their primary place of residence for at least three years after the lot split was approved.
However, Mr. Thomas pointed out a loophole in which an owner could first convert their home to a duplex, then add up to three accessory dwelling units (ADUs) as allowed under the ADU ordinance. After that, the owner could then split their lot and add at least two more units to the other lot for a total of seven units. An ADU is a secondary house or apartment on a primary home’s lot. The Planning Board’s proposed ordinance would further allow owners to add up to five units to the split lot, in other words, another duplex and three ADUs.
Twenty-two members of the public spoke. Of these, fifteen spoke against the Planning Board’s recommendation to allow up to ten units on what was previously a single-family lot. One pointed to the defeat of Measure Z in 2020 as evidence that most Alamedans want to limit density.
Several speakers commented that adding significant housing without additional parking will lead to congested streets. One pointed out that as the nation converts to electric cars, it would be challenging for tenants without fixed parking spaces to charge their vehicles.
Still others said that since SB9 is new and all cities are determining how best to implement it, the City should proceed with caution and only allow what is minimally necessary.
One advocate for the Planning Board’s recommendation said that she would like to find affordable homes for her children in the community and felt that the Planning Board’s proposal would allow her to do so and potentially welcome new neighbors.
Others argued that greater density is better for minimizing climate change. Still others argued that few lots are large enough to accommodate ten units given height restrictions. They would like to see affordable housing added in the few locations where it is possible.
After considering public comment, the Council decided to proceed more cautiously concerning density than what was proposed by the Planning Board. They elected to remand the proposed ordinance to the Planning Board to be redrafted with general directions to:
- Limit new unit sizes to between 800-1200 SF to encourage the building of smaller, more affordable housing
- Use unit spacing requirements as a way to limit the number of possible units that can be built on a property
- Incentivize lot splits to encourage the construction of affordable homeownership opportunities.
Mr. Thomas said he expected to return in mid-February with the revised draft.