California Eliminates Single Family Detached Zoning - Is This the Future Californication of Utah

Having grown up in Southern California and started our family and my career there, I've always been amused by Utahns who complain about the Californication of Utah. It's almost as amusing as the talk about Utah earthquakes and "The Big One," having literally stumbled through several Southern California 7.0 earthquakes. There is little comparison between the size of Southern California, its growth and similar changes in Utah.

For those who lament the Californication of Utah, there is a new and possibly legitimate fear that could change the face of Utah, specifically the face of Utah housing. On September 16, 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed two bipartisan bills, Senate Bills 9 and 10. SF 9 changed state zoning laws to make it possible for the owner of property zoned R-1 to subdivide and build two separate homes on their lot, not just an accessory dwelling unit. SB 10 is similar but allows more units near a transit station.

Specifically, SB 9 states the following:

65852.21. (a) A proposed housing development containing no more than two residential units within a single-family residential zone shall be considered ministerially, without discretionary review or a hearing, if the proposed housing development meets all of the following requirements:

(1) The parcel subject to the proposed housing development is located within a city, the boundaries of which include some portion of either an urbanized area or urban cluster, as designated by the United States Census Bureau, or, for unincorporated areas, a legal parcel wholly within the boundaries of an urbanized area or urban cluster, as designated by the United States Census Bureau.

(2) The parcel satisfies the requirements specified in subparagraphs (B) to (K), inclusive, of paragraph (6) of subdivision (a) of Section 65913.4.

(3) Notwithstanding any provision of this section or any local law, the proposed housing development would not require demolition or alteration of any of the following types of housing:

(A) Housing that is subject to a recorded covenant, ordinance, or law that restricts rents to levels affordable to persons and families of moderate, low, or very low income.

(B) Housing that is subject to any form of rent or price control through a public entity's valid exercise of its police power.

(C) Housing that has been occupied by a tenant in the last three years.

Like the comparison between California's and Utah's growth, the formers housing crisis is substantially worse. California's much larger percentage minority population exacerbates it, tending toward more severely housing disadvantaged and the Golden State's homeless population crisis. What appears to be a desperate measure is likely more a realistic acknowledgment that California's real estate business, as usual, will never make a noticeable dent in their housing crisis.

What about Utah?

Utah likely has a much high percentage of single-family zoning than California. About a decade ago, I looked at the housing numbers for Davis County, and it was more than 90% single-family detached homes. Should Utah consider unilaterally changing single-family zoning to two-family zoning?

No, well, maybe not. Utah still has the opportunity to implement less drastic measures that can significantly positively impact its affordable housing crisis. Our situation is not so dire that changes in State and local agency land use and zoning policies can make needed differences. Here are some of my ideas.

  • The State should take the regional population projections they produce and segregate them among local agencies with mandates that the counties and cities master plan for the estimated population.

  • The State should change its General Plan law to eliminate the "advisory document" stipulation and require counties and cities to adopt General Plans that (1) accommodate their estimated population growth and (2) make decisions on population, housing and infrastructure growth that are consistent with the General Plan.

  • Counties and cities should have realistic Moderate Income Housing Plans and adopt housing programs that facilitate affordable housing construction.

  • The State should give regional transportation agencies like the Wasatch Front Regional Council and the Mountainland Association of Governments control of regional transportation and air quality funding and planning rather than UDOT.

If you're interested in more information on California's SB9 and 10, click here to read the LA Times article and click here to see the legislation.

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by Stephen G. McCutchan