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What could the end of single-family zoning mean for California’s affordable housing crisis?

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Monday, the California Legislature gave its final approval to Senate Bill 9, Senate leader Toni Atkins’ proposal to allow up to four units on what are now single-family lots across the state.

The linchpin of the Democrats’ housing package has been one of the most contentious housing measures this year. Following the Assembly vote last week, a group calling itself Californians for Community Planning Initiative immediately filed a proposed constitutional amendment for the November 2022 ballot to reassert local control over zoning and land-use decisions in opposition to the bill.

A ‘No to upzoning’ sign placed on the lawn of an East Sacramento home on Aug. 4. 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

The Senate voted 28-7 on Monday to concur in some amendments and send the bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who will have to sign or veto the bill by Oct. 10.

But would the end to single-family zoning really mean all that much for California?

On the latest episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon explain what single-family zoning is, how it originated and why its potential repeal is so symbolic.

Manuela breaks down what the bill would actually mean for homeowners across the state, while Liam explains how the state has already tried, both successfully and unsuccessfully, to allow more than a single house on single-family lots.

They are joined by Kevin de León, a former state Senate leader and now a member of the Los Angeles city council, where he was part of a vote this month on a resolution opposing the bill. De León lays out the differences between how Bay Area and Los Angeles legislators view housing, including differences in income levels and the California myth: 

“The life of suburbia that attracted so many Americans from all over the country to come to sunny California….Folks would be like, wow, orange trees, lemon trees, front yard, backyard swimming pool, a single-family home,” he said.

De  León agreed California needs more housing, but like many of the zoning bill’s opponents, he pointed out that it doesn’t set aside any units for the lowest earners: “The question is not just sort of, more inventory stock, but the question, is what type of housing will be produced and for who.”

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