The Legislature has passed a series of increasingly aggressive housing laws that loosen local zoning requirements and remove local discretion over housing projects. One of the latest bills, SB 9, permits owners of certain properties in urban, single-family zoned neighborhoods to split one parcel into two and then construct up to two units on each of the two parcels. The “fourplex” bill goes into effect January 1, which you can read more about here.
In response, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently introduced an ordinance that would end single-family zoning in the City by rezoning every lot to at least two-family (RH-2). While this appears to be pro-housing, the motivation is to avoid the new state law and maintain local control over the permit process. SB 9 only impacts single-family zoning. If there are no single-family lots left, the provisions of SB 9 will simply not apply in San Francisco.
Although the details are far from final, there are some potential upsides of the local ordinance compared to SB 9. The ordinance would allow up to four units without a lot split, up to 6 six units on corner lots, and allow condos to be formed as part of new construction. However, SB 9 allows projects by right and requires ministerial approval. The local ordinance may not exempt projects from Discretionary Review and Conditional Use hearings at the Planning Commission, a process that can delay a project by months and comes with a high degree of uncertainty.
The local ordinance may also eliminate one other key benefit of SB 9 – exemption from environmental review under CEQA. SB 9 does not apply to properties that have been legally designated as historic, but CEQA applies to any property that the City determines is a “historic resource” regardless of whether the property has been legally designated as such. The City wants to keep the CEQA process intact, which could allow the City to impose subjective standards on any property it deems a “historic resource” and maintain control over project design.
Although it is unclear what the final provisions of the local ordinance will be, the City is clearly on a path toward eliminating the protections of SB 9 within the first few months of 2022. If you were considering an SB 9 project in San Francisco, don’t delay. If you submit an application before the new ordinance goes into effect, you can potentially “freeze” the existing zoning and ensure your project is processed according to state law.
The attorneys at Zacks, Freedman & Patterson can assist you with your SB 9 project, or any other land use matter. Contact us at your convenience to request a consultation.