Housing: A new state rule regulating housing mostly impacts Santa Monica’s single family neighborhoods. Courtesy image

Development is always a heated topic in Santa Monica, particularly when it comes to people’s doorstep, which is why City Hall is taking a conservative approach to construction under controversial housing bill SB 9.

SB 9 was passed by state legislators in September 2021 and came into effect on Jan. 1. City Council voted to formally oppose the bill in February 2021, but now must focus their efforts on managing its local implementation.

The bill is meant to help increase California’s housing stock by allowing up to four units to be built on a land parcel zoned for a single family dwelling. Council opposed the bill due to its lack of an affordability requirement and fears that it would result in speculative investors purchasing land parcels and building expensive new units.

City staff are in the process of drafting local laws regulating SB 9 in Santa Monica, and on Dec. 29 Planning Manager Jing Yeo released a report with considerations for the new ordinance.

These considerations focus on tightening requirements for new construction under SB 9, limiting the ability to add additional dwelling units (ADUs) and junior additional dwelling units (JADUs) to newly constructed units, and deterring speculative investors.

SB 9 only applies to land areas zoned for single-unit dwellings. In Santa Monica single-unit dwelling zones are designated as R1 and OP1 and represent approximately one-third of the city’s land area. These zones include the entire North of Montana neighborhood, large portions of Sunset Park and Northeast Neighbors neighborhood, and a small section of the Pico Neighborhood.

There are two options to increase housing on a single-unit zoned land parcel under SB 9.

The first is the duplex option, which allows property owners to construct two units on their parcel. The second is the lot split option, which allows owners to divide their land parcel into two lots. If a property owner chooses to split their lot and build duplexes on both lots they can end up with four individual units on an area of land previously zoned for a single dwelling.

One consideration for the upcoming local ordinance is to prevent the addition of ADUs and JADUs on units created via the duplex option (SB 9 already prevents ADUs and JADUs being added to units created via lot splitting).

ADUs and JADUs are small housing units such as guest houses that are often allowed on land parcels zoned for single family homes. Restricting ADUs on SB 9 conversions, would prevent a single land parcel from ultimately ending up with six units.

Another suggestion is to require that applicants who create a unit under the duplex path remain living in one of the two units for three years following the creation of division (SB 9 already has this rule in place for applicants pursuing a lot split).

Additionally, in order to deter speculative investment, City Hall is considering clarifying that the applicant occupying one of the units per SB 9 must be a natural person.

Outside of the staff’s ordinance suggestions, SB 9 already has several restrictions built in to prevent tenant displacement and speculative investment.

Some of the most significant include a ban on converting rent controlled or deed restricted affordable units or a unit that has been tenant occupied in the last three years.

City Council will consider a draft ordinance on implementing SB 9 during a March Council meeting. Until there is formal City Council direction, City Manager David White said staff will take a conservative approach to SB 9 housing development.