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Karla Arens: No affordable housing with SB 9

Karla Arens | Other Voices

Senate Bill 9 became effective on Jan 1, 2022. It eliminates single family residential zoning in much of California so that owners/developers of parcels zoned single family can now split their lots into two and build an aggregate of six-eight houses between the two lots. This includes accessory dwelling units( ADU). Under SB 9 the minimum lot size can be as small as 1200 sq. ft.

What is glaringly absent in Senate Bill 9 is a requirement that any new housing be affordable! This bears repeating- none of the new housing approved under SB 9 needs to qualify as affordable housing- including the accessory dwelling units!

What started out several years ago as a proposal to create affordable housing in urban areas fell sway to the influence of realtors/developers when the bill made it to Sacramento and the affordable housing element requirement was eliminated .

There’s an often repeated meme that when the housing supply equals or exceeds demand prices will come down. This idea might work in a remote town in West Virginia, but it’s not a valid argument in high demand California and it’s especially not applicable in the much lauded and desirable town of Nevada City. More housing under SB9 will not create affordable housing- it will create more market rate/luxury houses.

The price point for Nevada City properties is not feasible for most local workers and SB9 will only exacerbate the already difficult housing issues. Our market is largely driven by out of area buyers relocating with a lot of cash/high paying remote employment. Likewise, any new rental units that are built under SB9 will suffer from the same inflated situation. Local, workforce renters will have to compete with an affluent demographic who will pay top dollar to live in town or, as we’ve already seen, properties turned into short term vacation rentals.

With average building costs in California somewhere around $300 a sq. ft along with the high cost of home/fire insurance, the idea of affordable housing without a government subsidy is a non-reality. The Cashin’s Field Project of 53 units is an example of subsidized housing that will serve the workforce population when it’s available for rent next year.

Additionaly, there are already R-2 and R-3 parcels within Nevada City limits that could support multiple units for affordable housing. So far, no builder has come forward with a project and the City Council should be encouraged to find a developer for these properties. Chopping up the neighborhoods into small, premium SB9 lots is not the solution.

In the fall of 2021, 241 cities signed a letter to the governor demanding that the affordable housing criteria be included in the bill- to no avail.

“ Californians should demand that Sacramento abandon the one-size fits all strategy embodied in SB9 which would benefit developers, hurt homeowners and renters and not facilitate the production of low income housing. ” Christian Horvath, City Council member Redondo Beach, Drew Boyles, chair of the South Bay Cities Council of Governments.

Measure W, the Neighborhood Historic District Ordinance will take back local housing control from the State by reinstating the single family zoning that has been in effect for the last 40 years up until 12/31/21- before SB9 became law.. These longstanding ordinances and single family zoning are what keeps Nevada City a vibrant, dynamic town.

Save Nevada City neighborhoods- Vote Yes on W.

Karla Arens is a retired realtor and lives in Nevada City.


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