The Real Impacts of SB 9 on our Community
I strongly support providing more affordable housing in Solana Beach for all income groups. However, recently enacted California Senate Bill 9 (“SB 9”) does not address “affordability” at all. It simply jams more density into our existing neighborhoods, increases prices for land and housing, and places additional burdens on our streets, schools, parking, and other local infrastructure.
My opponent has distributed various statements in support of SB 9, including on her campaign website. She inaccurately claims that:
(1) SB 9 addresses the “severe shortage of middle-income housing” in Solana Beach;
(2) SB 9 “Preserves environmental quality and the look of communities,” and
(3) Our city’s implementation of SB 9 (Ordinance 521) puts “extreme limits” on the use of the Ordinance and will not promote “the construction of affordable housing.”
These false claims by my opponent mischaracterize the impacts of SB 9 and are misleading.
Support for SB 9 is based on the false premise that more housing (i.e., density) will magically make homes cheaper. But, the familiar Supply and Demand Curve doesn’t apply to real estate along the California coast for one simple reason — more supply does not result in lower prices when demand is constantly growing and consuming the increase of supply.
This is the case in areas like Solana Beach and other coastal cities. We cannot ignore the “demand” side of the equation. Real estate along the California coast is a limited resource and demand continues to grow. So, in coastal southern California housing does not get less expensive by building more housing.
In fact, the more units that can be built on a piece of real estate in a desirable area like Solana Beach, the more expensive that real estate becomes, not cheaper. Just look at cities with high densities such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Vancouver which are some examples where there is a lot of density, but housing is still very expensive. And look no further than our own city, Solana Beach, which is 53% multi-family, more than twice as “dense” as Encinitas, yet largely more expensive.
Why is SB 9 such a big deal?
It’s a big deal because it completely overrides the Solana Beach Zoning Code, which results in eliminating the protections that allow neighbors and the Council to deal with the negative impacts to neighborhoods caused by a proposed development. Sacramento has decided that it knows best how our city and every other city in California should be developed.
My opponent’s website claims that SB 9 “Preserves environmental quality and the look of communities.” However, that language can’t be found anywhere in the Bill. It is disingenuous to claim SB 9 will “preserve environmental quality” and “the look of communities” when the density of buildings is increased four-fold and landscaped areas, backyard gardens, and trees are destroyed to build more structures. How can you “preserve environmental quality” when water and other resources are further stretched beyond the capacity of our infrastructure? And how can you preserve the “look” of our community when SB 9 overrides the very Zoning Codes that created it?
It is important to actually read SB 9 and understand what the real impacts will be. SB 9 is codified in California Government Code Sections 65852.21, 66411.7 and 66452.6. Let me summarize some of the major impacts that SB 9 can have in Solana Beach and would apply if my opponent has her way:
- NO AFFORDABLE HOUSING. First and foremost, SB 9 does NOTHING to provide affordable housing.
- NO NEIGHBORHOOD OR COUNCIL REVIEW OF PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT. It eliminates all public hearings and neighbor input with regard to lot splits and the construction of multiple units on what were formerly single-family lots. In other words, permits can be obtained over the counter (ministerial) without any notice at all to neighboring properties or any type of public hearing. Where is the transparency and public participation my opponent calls for?
- FUELS SPECULATORS AND INCREASES LAND AND HOUSING COSTS. It allows every property in a single-family zone to be split into two lots, and then build two units on each lot. The result is that all single-family residential lots have now been rezoned into 4 unit lots. This is fodder for speculative land buyers who often outbid families who wish to live in a home here, so the developer can profit from the 4 units they are now entitled to build.
- REDUCES PARKING. It eliminates the City’s current parking standards and requires only one parking space per unit, except no parking is required for units within a half mile of a transit stop.
- REDUCES SETBACKS. It eliminates current setback standards (20- to 25-foot rear setbacks; 5- to 10-foot side setbacks) and requires only a 4-foot setback on side and rear yards.
- ELIMINATES OUR COUNCIL’S ABILITY TO PROTECT NEIGHBORS BY ADDRESSING NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT. It eliminates all “subjective” zoning standards such as our View Ordinance and other design criteria currently in our Zoning Ordinance. Also, it eliminates design criteria which allow our Council to evaluate bulk, scale, massing, and compatibility of proposed development to make it fit the neighborhood and remedy negative impacts. Consequently, neighbors will not have a way to address problems.
This is just a brief summary of this dramatic elimination of local control over what can be built in Solana Beach. It is not reasonable or realistic for my opponent to claim “environmental quality” will be preserved and “the look” of our neighborhoods will not change under SB 9 with density quadrupled.
Perhaps most concerning is that SB 9 provides substantial additional density while doing nothing to require or help cities to bolster their infrastructure to support the increases of population. What will happen to our schools when the number of families doubles, triples, or quadruples? How will we accommodate such a large increase in class sizes with no space to build additional schools and fields, and what will we do when water and other resources are stretched beyond our capacity and resources? How will we pay for these necessary increases of infrastructure?
Solana Beach Implementation of SB 9
So the challenge for our Council was how best to maintain the essence of our community, yet still comply with the requirements of SB 9 coming out of Sacramento. Our Council’s response is found in Ordinance 521. It reflects the Council’s effort to provide for both affordable housing and also respect and maintain our small beach town character, without overrunning our neighborhoods with multiple large buildings and throngs of cars parked on our streets and still others with nowhere to park. The author of SB 9 Senator Toni Atkins, in her newsletter “Toni Times” (dated March 22, 2022) even credited Solana Beach with taking action to tailor SB 9 to our community. Yet, my opponent continues to advocate for expanding Ordinance 521 to allow even more development with larger homes.
Furthermore, Ordinance 521 is a genuine effort to make housing that is built under the requirements of SB 9 more affordable. The bigger the house, the more expensive it is to build, and ultimately the higher the price to buy or rent. A modest-sized home is far more affordable than a large one. It’s just simple math. So, if the honest goal is to make housing more affordable, then the housing must be more modest in size. You can’t build large homes and expect them to sell for less than a smaller house on a similar lot.
Consequently, a size limitation like the one in our Ordinance 521 is essential to provide more affordable housing. Otherwise, developers will buy up Solana Beach real estate and then maximize the size of the new units they can build to make as much money as possible. Inevitably, Solana Beach will not end up with any middle-income or affordable housing, just more expensive and densely packed housing without the corresponding infrastructure it requires. This is a bad outcome for the quality and livability of our neighborhoods.
My opponent claims she wants transparency in the political process. However, she misleads readers of her website statement on SB 9 when she falsely claims the Homestead website (myhomestead.com) provides “independent analysis of Solana Beach’s implementation of SB 9.” A review of Homestead’s website reveals Homestead is a special interest group “dedicated to supporting SB 9.” Their website says it’s their goal to increase housing by “fundamentally changing our approach to zoning and developments.” “Homestead’s mission is to power a grass roots movement to reshape housing in America.” So much for accuracy, transparency, and independent analysis.
Unfortunately, building housing takes more than the type of wishful thinking represented by SB 9 and my opponent. My record shows that I have been a consistent supporter of realistic and practical efforts to obtain affordable housing in Solana Beach. I voted to eliminate the option for developers to pay a fee in lieu of providing affordable units. I supported the designation of our City Hall property as a potential site for the construction of affordable housing. I have supported the dedication of a city owned parking lot for the construction of affordable housing (The Pearl). Our City Council even committed to providing over two million dollars to build affordable housing on that site. And over the past years, the Solana Beach City Council has approved every affordable housing unit proposed by developers, while also addressing and resolving negative impacts.
The reality is that cities don’t build affordable housing, developers do. It is not a governmental function. However, our city has worked diligently to approve affordable units, designate city property for development of affordable units, provide city funding, and obtain additional funding to facilitate the construction of affordable housing in Solana Beach, and I will continue to support doing so.