Cities call for action against bills limiting local control over development

SCV housing Bobby Block /The Signal

Control over land-use policy remains a focal point for the city of Santa Clarita, which earlier this year sought to retain maximum control within the framework of new state laws making it easier to build accessory dwelling units (ADU), commonly known as granny flats, without community or city input. 

The battle for balance of power on land-use issues continues in the state Legislature, which is expected to resume hearings on Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 10 when it returns from its recess Aug. 16. 

The two pieces of state legislation will have “drastic and irreversible changes to single-family neighborhoods,” according to Bea Dieringer, the mayor of the Southern California city of Rolling Hills Estates, who hosted more than 1,000 people Saturday morning for a virtual townhall about the bills. 

The townhall was meant to educate and galvanize city and county leaders across the state to stop the passage of SB 9, which the Santa Clarita City Council formally opposed in February, and SB 10. 

“There needs to be an avalanche of opposition by you, their constituents,” Dieringer told townhall participants, including Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Marsha McLean. “Our job here at this town hall meeting is to provide you with accurate information about what these bills do so that you can take action if you’re concerned.” 

McLean told The Signal that she found the information “very alarming.” 

“Anyone who owns a single-family home in a residential neighborhood should be made aware of this and should be very, very concerned as to what could happen,” she said. 

The state’s housing inventory issue, McLean said, has been driven in part by investors and speculators who are buying single-family residential properties. 

“We here in Santa Clarita, I welcome a developer to come in and place a project that would include affordable housing,” she said. “So, we’re not saying no to developing affordable housing, we’re saying, ‘Come on in, but do it right and do it in the right location.’” 

Dan Carrigg, a former legislative director for the League of California Cities, a city advocacy group, said the senate bills are “going to make a significant change to single-family neighborhoods, single-family lifestyle.” 

Carrigg said SB 9 would use duplex and lot-split provisions to increase density, or “upzone,” in single-family neighborhoods without regard to local zoning codes, community input and environmental review processes. 

“When someone comes up to you and uses the word ‘ministerial’ in this area, you better watch it because really what ministerial means, when they’re putting it in these laws, that you as a resident have no say, nor does your city council,” he said. 

Coupled with existing laws regulating ADUs, Carrigg said these laws have the potential to turn one unit on a lot into up to six units. 

SB 10, he said, would rezone urban parcels to allow for 10 or more housing units.  

“You could do this in high fire hazard areas if you just comply with the building standards,” said Carrigg, adding that the laws don’t make any mention of affordable housing requirements. 

Lynetta McElroy, a resident of the predominantly Black community of Leimart Park, said her community is “ground zero” for developers, who many townhall presenters said would benefit the most from these laws, looking to buy up single-family home parcels. 

“It is important to retain single-family homes, not only for our culture, but for how much it enhances the lives of families who purchase the home so they can pass down generational wealth, and we can send our children to school and we can give our children a good start in life,” she said. 

City of San Fernando Councilwoman Cindy Montanez said almost 90% of all trees in cities are located on private property. 

“Developers are going to be free to destroy all trees on lots even as the state is talking about climate change and heat islands,” she said, noting property setbacks could be reduced to 4 feet. 

Montanez also noted that the proposed laws remind her of redlining policies – discriminatory laws used by the Federal Housing Administration in the early 20th century that reinforced racial inequality in cities. She said many families of color, like the predominantly Latino community of San Fernando, have depended on pulling equity from their homes to get ahead. 

“Those dreams are on the verge of being destroyed by a group of disconnected legislators who have lost touch with the realities of hard-working individuals and families,” she said. “It bothers me that they spew this rhetoric for the need for more affordable housing, yet their policies have made it nearly impossible for people to afford the homes in their neighborhood.” 

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