City Planners Wrestle with California’s New, Controversial Housing Law

Santa Barbara’s Planning Division Crafting Ordinance to Meet New Senate Bill 9 Requirements

New Year's Resolution: Mayor Cathy Murillo sat in as an alternate on the city’s Ordinance Committee this Tuesday as it worked to get ahead of the new state housing law that takes effect January 1. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Since Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 9 a month ago, the City of Santa Barbara’s planning division has been crafting a new ordinance to take the requirement that doubles the housing on a single-residence lot and turn it into something palatable for the city’s geography, environment, and historic districts. And the deadline is January 1, 2022, when SB 9 goes into effect.

Councilmember Kristen Sneddon

The bill’s author, State Senator Toni Atkins of San Diego, when she introduced the bill in April, wrote that allowing a homeowner to more easily build a duplex or subdivide their lot gave more options “for families to maintain and build intergenerational wealth ​— ​a currency we know is crucial to combatting inequity and creating social mobility.” The goal was “a modest unit on their property so that their aging parent or adult child can have an affordable place to live.”

Like the accessory dwelling unit (ADU), or granny flat, ordinance that preceded it, this one would also be ministerial, or a project approved by city staff if it stayed within the rules. The Ordinance Committee met on Tuesday to review those rules, which come under two categories: One would build a second primary residence on a single lot; the other would split a single lot into two.

Councilmember Kristen Sneddon, who represents the Riviera neighborhood, wanted to make sure the high-fire-hazard zones among the foothills were exempt in the city’s pending ordinance, which they are due to evacuation issues. The issue then arose whether other high-fire areas, such as along the Mesa, would be exempted. The committee, which was composed of Sneddon, Mayor Cathy Murillo, and Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez, decided to let the council weigh in on it, when the Mesa’s representative, Mike Jordan, would be present. That hearing is set for December 7.

Another question had come from the Planning Commission, which was whether to make any second home built on one property a moderate-income one in the inland zone. Though Murillo was opposed to a standard that would limit building more housing, she agreed to let the council decide this one, too.

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The new Santa Barbara rules guide height (24 feet for a two-story) and size ​— ​a minimum of 220 square feet for a studio, and between 400 and 1,200 square feet for larger homes, depending on lot size ​— ​and adds a creek setback of 35 feet at the top of a bank. Senior planner Renee Brooke explained the city had no explicit waterway setback, except for 25 feet at Mission Creek, although 35-100 feet exists for the coastal zone; she thought the minimum was logical to apply to the new regulations. Brooke clarified that when it came to adding an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to a primary home, only one — either an ADU or a junior ADU — would be permitted for these homes.

Potential number of properties affected by SB 9 | Courtesy City of Santa Barbara

For people who understand the coastal zone rules, they remain intact ​— ​a coastal development permit is required, but no public hearings may take place. The city will also require that in a proposal for a second home on one lot in the coastal zone, one of the homes must be priced for a low-income household.

The city kept SB 9’s requirement that any new unit would be rented for 30 consecutive days, to avoid short-term, or vacation, rentals from springing up, and also the necessity for any applicant for a lot split to live in one of the homes for the next three years. To speed up writing the ordinance, planners also adopted the ADU design criteria, which attempt to match the new building to the old. Sneddon objected to the sameness this would impose, and Brooke said an amendment to the ordinance could always be made once it passed.

While the intent of the ordinance is to add rental housing, it is possible to sell the split lots. Brooke also said that staff would keep track of the properties that were split under SB 9 in order to ensure a large one was not split a second time. As well, the city will require that any new lot created by a split may not be smaller than the average size of the 20 closest lots.

The city won’t be able to meet the January 1 deadline, because of the 30 days allowed for a referendum for a public vote on the ordinance, so the city plans on an emergency ordinance to carry the rules across the New Year.

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