California Density Law Didn’t Kill the Single-Family Neighborhood

After the passage of a contentious zoning reform law that sought to encourage ‘light infill’ in single-family neighborhoods, few California households have submitted applications to build extra units, largely due to onerous restrictions imposed by lo

Read Time: 2 minutes

July 11, 2022, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


San Francisco Houses

Jorg Hackemann / Shutterstock

A recent California law aimed at boosting housing construction by easing the process for building additional units caused major backlash as critics worried about the ‘death of single-family neighborhoods’ and loss of local control. However, since its passage, few property owners have applied for permits under the law.

As Dustin Gardiner reports in a paywalled article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Under SB9, homeowners with large enough lots are supposed to have an expedited path to build more units on their property by either splitting their lot and building another home or converting their home into a duplex — or both.” But as one Bay Area family found out, the process still includes onerous fees (in the case of their 1,500 square foot proposed project, $95,832) that prohibit homeowners from moving forward with their plans. “The fee, ostensibly to help pay for new parks, is the same amount that Sunnyvale charges developers to build a new seven-home subdivision.” In this case, the family secured a permit for a smaller ADU with no fee.

“The case is an example of how housing advocates say SB9, which aims to address the state’s dire housing shortage by allowing more density in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes, has been hamstrung in its impact.” According to Gardiner, “In San Francisco, 14 property owners have applied to build SB9 projects, all of which are still being reviewed by the Planning Department.” To date, “The Chronicle couldn’t find an example of a project that has broken ground in the Bay Area.”

Planetizen has previously covered some of the ‘creative’ measures cities have attempted to take to block SB9 development. “YIMBY Law is tracking at least 80 cities that have adopted — or are considering — policies that it deems hostile to the law, from San Francisco to Sunnyvale. It has asked Bonta to investigate around 50 cities that it says are out of compliance.”

“Annie Fryman, a former legislative adviser on housing policy who now works for a company that builds ADUs, said SB9 needs to be revised to remove the ability cities have to impose exorbitant fees and create dubious historic districts to block construction.” Fryman also recommends changing the law to require that cities review permits within a reasonable time frame and calls on the state to provide support and resources to homeowners who don’t have the same expertise in housing construction as developers do.

Monday, July 11, 2022 in San Francisco Chronicle

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Sharrow bike markings on black asphalt two-lane road with snowy trees

Early Sharrow Booster: ‘I Was Wrong’

The lane marking was meant to raise awareness and instill shared respect among drivers and cyclists. But their inefficiency has led supporters to denounce sharrows, pushing instead for more robust bike infrastructure that truly protects riders.

January 26, 2023 - Streetsblog USA

View of stone-paved street with pedestrians and "Farmers Market" neon sign on left and old buildings on right in Seattle, Washington

Push and Pull: The Link Between Walkability and Affordability

The increased demand for walkable urban spaces could make them more and more exclusionary if cities don’t pursue policies to limit displacement and boost affordability.

January 27, 2023 - Smart Cities Dive

Aerial view from directly overhead of buses parked in large asphalt lot

U.S. Transit Agencies Face a Financial Crisis

Transit providers around the country are scrambling to find new sources of revenue to replace lagging ridership and reorienting their systems to a future less dependent on daily commuters.

2 hours ago - Smart Cities Dive

Water SUpply

California Rejects Six-State Colorado River Plan, Proposes Its Own

State officials claim a proposal agreed upon by the other six states using Colorado River water disproportionately impacts California farmers.

3 hours ago - Los Angeles Times

Pedestrians in zebra crosswalk with green bike lane in downtown Seattle, Washington with three-story brick building in background

Washington Focuses Road Safety Efforts on Individuals, Neglecting Design

Legislative efforts to reduce traffic deaths could move the needle toward Vision Zero, but state leaders failed to commit infrastructure funds to making structural improvements.

4 hours ago - The Urbanist

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.