Not all Santa Clara County cities see new state housing law the same way
An aerial image of part of the city of Santa Clara. File photo by The 111th Group.

Cities across California are deciding if they are going to welcome or fight a statewide housing bill that could change the makeup of neighborhoods.

Senate Bill 9, effective as of Jan. 1, allows property owners to build additional housing on an existing lot which they could then sell. Homeowners on lots larger than 1,200 square feet and who have occupied the home for the last three years would be allowed to subdivide their land and build up to four additional units. The bill streamlines the permit process and gives cities less say in turning down potential building projects, but some say there’s room for improvement.

While cities have no choice but to implement the new bill, some are looking for ways to mitigate the impact. A few, including Cupertino, Monte Sereno and Saratoga, have endorsed an opposing measure, the Our Neighborhood Voices Initiative.

The initiative would amend the state constitution to allow local land use and zoning laws to override state mandates like SB 9, returning more control to local governments. It would allow for state exemptions in the case of water, communication or transportation projects or the siting of power plants. It would not allow local governments to override the California Coast Act of 1976.

Signatures are being gathered to place the measure on the ballot for the upcoming election. San Jose District 6 Councilmember Dev Davis has been leading the local signature drives.

“These decisions should be in the local domain, not in the state domain,” Davis told San José Spotlight. “Under this bill, housing can be built with zero neighborhood input and with zero consideration for how it would impact the city’s infrastructure. It directly impacts every neighborhood. The vast majority of people who hear about this initiative want to sign the petition to put it on the ballot.”

San José Spotlight contacted numerous city officials within Santa Clara County, asking if they were implementing the law or if they are supporting the ballot measure. Below is a list of responses:

Campbell—City Manager Brian Loventhal told San José Spotlight the city has not taken an official position on SB 9.

“The city is in the process of drafting long-term ordinance amendments to implement SB 9 to bridge the gap until permanent ordinance amendments are in place,” he said.

Campbell passed an urgency ordinance as an interim measure on Dec. 7.  This establishes exemptions to the city’s zoning code to allow compliance with SB 9.

Cupertino— Cupertino has endorsed the initiative.

Gilroy— “Gilroy has not taken a formal position on SB 9 nor has any plans to deal with the impacts,” City Manager Jimmy Forbis said.

Los Altos—An inquiry to City Manager Gabriel Engeland received no response. Los Altos Mayor Anita Enander has endorsed the initiative.

Los Altos Hills—Planning and Building Director Sofia Mangalam said Los Altos Hills is in compliance with SB 9 and established regulations to govern the development of qualified SB 9 projects. The regulations will address public safety concerns associated with high fire and geological hazard areas, as well as the privacy concerns of residents.

Los Gatos—Town Manager Laurel Prevetti was unavailable for comment.

Milpitas—City spokesperson Charmaine Angelo replied with an excerpt from a memo from Mayor Rich Tran regarding the city’s position on SB 9: “The city of Milpitas respectfully opposes SB 9.”

Tran highlighted the bill’s lack of discretionary review or approval for housing developments within single-family zones. He said this would override local community input and remove important local discretion over land-use decisions that affect neighborhoods.

Monte Sereno—Monte Sereno has endorsed the initiative.

Morgan Hill— “Although the city of Morgan Hill opposed SB 9 and requested amendments to the bill, our City Council has not taken a stance on the initiative,” City Manager Christina Turner told San José Spotlight.

In 1977, Morgan Hill voters adopted the Residential Development Control System, a smart growth pacing policy, in response to the community’s concern over the pace of residential growth and its impacts on city services and infrastructure. Turner does not believe a significant number of property owners will take advantage of SB 9.

Mountain View—City Manager Kimbra McCarthy did not respond to requests for comment.

Palo Alto—City Manager Ed Shikada did not respond to requests for comment. Councilwoman Lydia Kou has endorsed the measure. The city received its first application to build under SB 9 on Jan. 3.

San Jose—City spokesperson Kristen Van Kley replied that the San Jose City Council does not currently have an official position on the potential ballot measure.

“We have implemented SB 9 as required of all cities by Jan. 1,” spokesperson Cheryl Wessling said.

Santa Clara—Julie Minot, executive assistant to the city manager, said the city is planning a study session on the topic on Jan. 25.

Saratoga— “Saratoga City Council adopted an urgency ordinance last month to establish temporary objective development standards for applications submitted under Senate Bill 9,” City Manager James Lindsay told San José Spotlight. “A longer-term ordinance is being developed and is expected to be considered by the City Council in the spring. Additionally, the council voted in October to unanimously support the statewide initiative known as the Californians for Community Planning Initiative.”

The initiative calls for control to remain with local governments.

Sunnyvale— “On Jan. 4, our City Council adopted new regulations pertaining to SB 9 that are effective immediately. The city has taken no position on the proposed ballot initiative,” said Jennifer Garnett, spokesperson for the city manager.

Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected]

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