Despite City Council’s vocal opposition, the recently passed state Senate Bill 9 will nonetheless apply to Santa Monica starting January 2022, but City Manager David White says there is no cause for serious concern.

The controversial state housing bill was signed into law by Governor Newsom in November. SB 9 permits the splitting and upzoning of land parcels currently zoned for single family units.

In a Dec. 7. Council meeting, White assured residents that the City will approve housing development under the bill in a cautious and controlled manner.

Proponents of the bill believe it will help address the state’s housing crisis, while detractors fear that its lack of affordability requirements will result in investors snapping up land parcels and building expensive new units that will further gentrification.

While the bill applies to all Single-Unit Residential (R1) Districts, the City has discretion in how it handles applications to split lots or build duplexes.

Staff is in the process of developing an ordinance outlining how Santa Monica will manage development applications in R1 areas, which will be presented to Council no later than March 2022. In the meantime, staff will publish an information memorandum on the City’s approach to implementing SB 9 until an ordinance is approved.

“Given City Council’s past discussions on SB 9, our intention is to take a conservative approach implementing SB 9,” said White. “The City’s approach will be cautious and deliberative, not rushed.”

SB 9 allows for duplexes to be built on a single unit lot and it allows lot owners to divide their lot in two. If an owner pursues both a lot split and a duplex they can build a total of four units on a former single unit lot.

One example of how the City will potentially manage development in this scenario is by placing restrictions on building Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (JADUs).

ADUs are small attached or unattached dwelling units within a single family parcel. A common example is a detached guest house. JADUs are units created out of a space within the family home that have an independent entrance and kitchen to the main home.

“In the case of an applicant that exercises both a lot split and a duplex, it will be our intention at the staff level to limit the development of ADUs and JADUs under this scenario until City Council takes formal action (in approving an ordinance),” said White.

Such a measure may help limit the densification of R1 neighborhoods. R1 zones include the North of Montana, Sunset Park and North of Wilshire areas as well as a section of the Pico neighborhood.

Under SB 9, a proposed housing development containing two residential units within a single family zone will be approved administratively and not require a public hearing. The proposed development will still be subject to all normal construction requirements and code reviews.

“I want to assure the Council and the community that any project group review will be thorough and deliberate,” said White. “This is definitely not an over the counter or same day review and approval process.”

Councilmember Gleam Davis was the sole proponent of SB 9 when it was discussed by Council in February. The other five Councilmembers present voted to send a letter to the bill’s author, Senator Toni Atkins, formerly opposing the bill.

Davis supports the bill on the basis that it creates the option to build more affordable housing on existing lots and addresses a community need for more housing. In Tuesday’s Council meeting she requested that the staff report on the proposed ordinance include sample development plans that show how multifamily housing could be created.

“I just want to make sure that as we go through this process… that we’re aware that whatever limitations we’re imposing are promoting the idea of a family housing, you know, i.e. two, three bedroom units… and that we’re not so constraining the ability to do duplexes that you end up with two one-bedroom duplexes,” said Davis.

While some cities have adopted emergency ordinances to regulate new developments under SB 9, White said this is not necessary in Santa Monica as the City’s R1 zoning restrictions are very comprehensive and were recently updated in January 2020.