Context for Sacramento's Decision to End Single-Family Zoning

In January, the Sacramento City Council took first steps toward ending single-family zoning citywide. The decision has provoked controversy that is influencing the next steps in the process.

2 minute read

February 11, 2021, 8:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Joseph Leopold Eichler

Cassiohabib / Shutterstock

Liam Dillon reports the details of Sacramento's recent decision to end single-family zoning, approved by the City Council in January 2021.

"In an unprecedented move, Sacramento is on the verge of approving a plan that would make the city the first in California, and one of the first in the country, to end zoning that permits only one single-family home on a property," writes Dillon of the historic scale of the decision.

"Under the proposal, up to four homes could be built on lots in neighborhoods long defined by their low-density, traffic-free tranquillity," according to Dillon's explanation of the decision.

The city's decision has provoked opposition from local homeowners and neighborhood groups, but the city is moving forward with the idea in the hopes that relaxed zoning restrictions will create more housing and a stabilizing effect on housing costs in a quickly growing, and changing, city.

The article features in-depth reporting on the local players debating Sacramento's new direction, in addition to providing background on the other efforts underway at local levels (like in Minneapolis) and state levels (like California and Oregon).

In addition to providing citywide data about the cost of housing, the article also breaks down the housing market to the neighborhood level.

One big caveat hanging over the entire effort is the experimental nature of this kind of zoning reform. "The city has no formal estimate on how many new homes — either through new construction or the subdivision of existing single-family homes — the proposal would create, but officials believe it’ll be fewer than 100 a year," writes Dillon.

That uncertainty is not lost on opponents of the decision to eliminate single-family zoning. According to Dillon, "those opposed to doing away with single-family home zoning don’t believe that the proposal will integrate neighborhoods, racially or economically. They argue that any new fourplexes in higher-income neighborhoods are likely to be more costly to rent or buy as condominiums than what the average Sacramento resident can afford."

As noted by Dillon, the Sacramento City Council has only taken preliminary steps toward zoning reform, and "city officials don’t expect to receive final sign-off until the end of the year."

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