Bill passed to ensure small locally zoned apartment buildings are not effectively blocked by zoning restrictions

picture by Sigmund to Unsplash

By Vanguard Staff

Sacramento, CA – California is in the midst of a deep housing crisis, which is driving mass out-of-state migration, skyrocketing eviction rates, record levels of homelessness and poverty, and a growing class of low-income and middle-class super commuters unable to afford housing within hours of their jobs.

Sen. Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) housing legislation, Senate Bill 478, passed the Assembly by a bipartisan vote of 56 to 14 and the Senate on a bipartisan approval vote of 30 to 6. SB 478 will now proceed to the Governor’s office for final approval. It is sponsored by California YIMBY.

“Honesty in zoning is so important when it comes to solving our housing crisis,” said Senator Wiener. “SB 478 is especially important given the adoption of SB 9 and SB 10, because with these new opportunities for increased density, it’s critical that loopholes and outdated regulations don’t impede progress. While SB 478 simply adjusts our housing standards to be more consistent, it will have a big impact on how we build housing in California.

SB 478, the Housing Opportunity Act, ensures that when cities break down into small apartment buildings – between 3 and 10 units – these buildings can actually be built and are not effectively prohibited via extreme square foot caps and restrictive. Specifically, SB 478 sets minimum standards for floor area ratios (FARs) and minimum lot sizes for these small apartment buildings.

Excessively low FARs and excessively large minimum lot sizes are tools that many cities use to undermine their own zoning density – in other words, a city can zone for multi-unit housing, but extreme requirements in matter of FAR or lot size make this zoning density effectively impossible. As a result, cities give with one hand and take away with the other, using these loopholes to effectively undo local zoning.

“Cities should not be allowed to use smart land use accounting tricks to block housing on properties where housing construction is legally permitted,” said California YIMBY CEO Brian Hanlon. “This bill will ensure that cities follow their own housing density rules, which will mean more housing for families who desperately need it.”

Current state law already prevents local FAR regulations from impeding ADU production; when building an ADU, local FAR standards are void. SB 478 would simply require a FAR of 1.0 on zoned lots for 3-7 units, and a FAR of 1.25 on 8-10 units, rather than nullifying them completely, as is the case with ADUs . This legislation would apply in areas urbanized as multi-family or mixed residential areas.

SB 478 also provides that cities cannot deny a project solely on the basis that the lot size does not meet the local agency’s requirements for minimum lot size. Additionally, localities will not be permitted to impose a lot coverage requirement that would prevent a housing development from meeting the permitted FAR.

Many California local governments are independently motivated to increase density in their neighborhoods, and others are required by state law to do so. However, due to the lack of adequate statewide standards and cumbersome and outdated regulations, some California cities are able to avoid liability and find loopholes to prevent denser housing from become a reality.


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