California may be on the verge of eliminating single-family zoning statewide. This is huge. And it’s a sign of how quickly the politics around housing and land use have shifted in just the last year.
On Wednesday, a key committee signed off on Senate Bill 50 — San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill to allow denser, taller housing around transit and in communities with lots of jobs. As part of the negotiations, Wiener agreed to merge his proposal with Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) and the result includes one very big change: Single-family houses could be converted to four-unit buildings, by right, anywhere in the state.
That is, a property owner could subdivide or remodel a house to turn it into four apartments. Or a developer could build a fourplex on a vacant single-family lot. The proposal wouldn’t allow people to demolish a house and build a new fourplex on the property, however.
It’s unclear how many property owners could reasonably convert a house to apartments, or whether this proposal would significantly increase multi-family housing in what are now single-family neighborhoods. There are also serious questions about whether this proposal will survive future committee hearings, not to mention the Assembly gantlet and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s veto pen.
Still — let’s just pause on the fact that a bipartisan group of lawmakers voted in favor of a bill that would allow apartments pretty much anywhere in California.
Again, this would be a major change from the status quo. Wiener has said that it’s illegal to build more than a single family house (plus an in-law unit) in roughly 80% of California’s residential neighborhoods.