Sb9: The new law has a greater impact in the City’s single-family neighborhoods. Courtesy image

City Council voted to oppose controversial housing bill SB 9 in 2021, but now that it has been signed into law by Governor Newsom, Councilmembers are seeking to guide its local implementation in a manner that encourages more family housing.

Ultimately, City Council has limited power over development spawned by SB 9 as it is a state law that Santa Monica must follow. However, the City is able to place extra requirements on new housing built under SB 9, and following Council’s discussion of the bill in a March 15 meeting, staff will return with a proposed ordinance governing the bill’s implementation in Santa Monica. 

SB 9 seeks to increase the development of housing in neighborhoods zoned for single family housing. The bill allows property owners to do this through two pathways: they can split an existing lot into two lots via the lot split pathway or they can divide one household into two via the duplex pathway. Property owners can also combine both pathways, which would result in four units on a lot previously zoned for just one.

In Santa Monica SB 9 applies to areas in the Ocean Park, North of Montana, Sunset Park, Northeast Neighbors and Pico neighborhoods. 

In February 2021, City Council voted 5-1 to send a letter to the author of SB 9, Senator Toni Atkins, formally opposing the bill. Councilmembers generally disliked that the bill had no requirement to construct affordable housing and feared that it would lead to speculative investment in single family neighborhoods. Councilmember Gleam Davis was the sole proponent of the bill and believed that given the severity of the state’s housing crisis it could be a helpful tool to build more units.

When it comes to the local implementation of SB 9, Councilmember Davis maintained her support for the bill and argued in favor of placing as few restrictions on it as possible. She said this specifically in the context of the City of Pasadena’s recent urgency ordinance, which put strong restrictions on SB 9 and drew sharp criticism from Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta.

“Any action that a city takes that effectively constrains housing under SB 9 is going to be questioned,” said Davis. “So I think we have to look at SB 9 through that lens; not how we can constrain its effectiveness or how can we limit the number of parcels that are subject to SB 9, but how can we give vibrancy, if you will, to the letter and the spirit of the law and I know that scares a lot of people.”

There are several ways Santa Monica could potentially limit development under SB 9. The City could prevent accessory dwelling units (ADUs) from being added to SB 9 projects, could deed restrict SB 9 units as specifically rental or for sale units, and could extend the owner occupancy requirements for SB 9 units. Santa Monica could also take steps to incentivize the use of SB 9 such as allowing more than 25 percent of an existing single-unit dwelling to be demolished for the duplex pathway or allowing the addition of ADUs on all SB 9 projects. 

Several Councilmembers expressed interest in utilizing the bill to incentivize more family housing. 

“The way that we’ve been building studio units, one units, you know our populations in schools, the numbers are going down, we don’t have as many families in Santa Monica and it just worries me that we just continue to build and that’s what’s happening here and we’re not encouraging and bringing more families into Santa Monica. We just continue to destroy that fabric and that part of Santa Monica,” said Councilmember Christine Parra.

Councilmember Oscar de la Torre speculated that adding an ownership requirement for SB 9 projects could be helpful, but asked staff to research whether this would be the case. 

“How do we ensure that families in the City of Santa Monica will be able to move in and raise their children here? And that’s my big consideration,” said de la Torre. “If we’re going to put conditions on these, whether rent or own, I would be more inclined to support ownership.”

Councilmember Lana Negrete pushed back citing her experience as a small business owner and mother to say that buying a home in Santa Monica is infeasible for many. 

“I’m running a nonprofit and this family business and the idea of purchasing a home in Southern California just seems to be, you know, completely out there and I would love to see an opportunity for people like myself, who are part of the community and want to be able to stay here,” said Negrete. 

Mayor Sue Himmelrich suggested incentivizing family housing by allowing ADUs on SB 9 projects, but requiring them to be at least 1,000 square feet.

In the absence of a local ordinance, staff is currently taking a conservative approach to implementing SB 9, according to City Manager David White. Following Council’s discussion, staff will return with a drafted ordinance at a future meeting.