✅ Changing single-family zoning

The duplex in East Sacramento where Elizabeth Olson currently lives with her dog and two-year-old son, Lucas. Olson says she would not be able to afford a single-family home in this neighborhood. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
A duplex in Sacramento on Aug. 4, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

By Manuela Tobias 


SB 9 would allow most homeowners across the state to build two houses or a duplex where now only one house is allowed. The bill, carried by a team of Democrats led by Senate leader Toni Atkins of San Diego, would also permit eligible homeowners to split their lot and add two more units on the second parcel — as long as it’s at least 1,200 square feet and outside fire hazard zones or historic districts. Owners would have to stay in their homes for at least three years after splitting their lots.  

SB 10 by San Francisco Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener would let a local government rezone single-family parcels to allow as many as 10 units near public transit hubs and within urban areas. 

Both bills would allow homeowners and developers to skip lengthy review processes, but projects would still ultimately be subject to final approval by the city.


The growing Yes in My Backyard movement has been trying to increase density for years, with mostly failed attempts. Realtors, landlords, builders, developers and Facebook all back the bills, which were central to the affordable housing package.


Dozens of California cities, mayors and council members, including the Los Angeles City Council, say the zoning changes take away local flexibility, decision-making and community input. Neighborhood groups such as Livable California also argue the bill doesn’t create affordable housing, and could spur gentrification. Opponents are already organizing a ballot measure in November 2022 to reassert local control over zoning.


About two-thirds of California is zoned for single-family homes, and California is short between  1.8 million and 3.5 million homes, which Newsom campaigned on building by 2025. While a zoning change won’t magically create the missing units, allowing building where it’s now illegal would add to the overall housing stock over time. Together, these bills are the most significant in years approved by the Legislature to address California’s housing crisis; a sweeping bill to reduce local control over zoning and create more affordable housing failed in 2018, 2019 and 2020.    


Newsom signed both bills on Sept. 16, just two days after beating his recall opponents, who had for the most part vowed to veto similar efforts. In his signing statement, the governor said: “The housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity. Making a meaningful impact on this crisis will take bold investments, strong collaboration across sectors and political courage from our leaders and communities to do the right thing and build housing for all.”