SACRAMENTO, Calif.—A grassroots coalition is seeking to have California voters decide if two new laws related to single-family zoning have gone too far. The coalition is currently gathering signatures to potentially put the issue on the November 2022 ballot.
The laws in question are Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 10, which both went into effect Jan. 1, and allow duplexes and apartment buildings—up to 10 units—to be built in what was formerly zoned only for single-family homes.
According to the group, which calls itself “Our Neighborhood Voices,” the laws, as enacted, could be “the total elimination of single-family homes,” Peggy Huang, a Yorba Linda city councilwoman and co-author of the possible ballot measure—which is formally called the Tripartisan Land Use Initiative—said on Epoch TV’s “California Insider.”
Leaders behind the push are now in the process of gathering upwards of 1 million signatures by April to place the issue on the November 2022 ballot.
According to organizers, their effort is to give cities the power back to make such zoning laws for themselves.
“What Sacramento and the legislature have done is create a Sacramento city-state,” Huang said. “We [all] live in Sacramento at this point because [our] cities and counties have no” ability to decide these things themselves.
But some are happy with the new laws.
According to a recent poll from the Los Angeles Business Council Institute and the Los Angeles Times, 55 percent of Californians surveyed said they support SB 9, while 68 percent showed favor for SB 10. The poll surveyed 906 voters and was conducted Oct. 27, 2021, through Nov. 3, 2021.
And when California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the laws into effect, the California Association of Realtors said both were a move in the right direction.
“Today, California took an important step toward solving our state’s housing supply crisis. [The new laws] are prudent, reasonable actions in the path forward to helping the state reach its housing goals and create greater homeownership opportunities for working Californians,” Dave Walsh, president of the association, said in a statement.
But proponents of the ballot initiative said they believe the laws are essentially a “blank check” for developers to take over the average California neighborhood without ensuring infrastructure—like roads, schools, or transit—can absorb the growth.
They also say that with the new laws, developers are not required to consider potential impacts on the environment or add more parking spaces to accommodate more people.
But most importantly, initiative organizers say, the new laws remove any chance for residents to fight back.
“That is truly a centralized government saying everything must be done in Sacramento,” Huang said. “To me, this is very close to socialism. If we give up on this now—our homes and our property rights to Sacramento—what do you think they’re going to ask for next?”
Although state legislatures branded the laws with good intentions such as affordability, social justice, and combating climate change, Huang said the legislation is “full of contradictions.”
Not only will gentrification flood suburban neighborhoods, she said, but both laws will drive up costs on housing.
Additionally, Huang said, the laws could potentially hurt more people than they help.
“If you speak to any individual, they want to own a home with land,” she said. “We all know land is what creates generational wealth. It brings people out of poverty.”
Lynetta McElroy, a Leimert Park resident in South Los Angeles and supporter of the ballot initiative who has owned her home since the 1980s, said that without local control of private land use, her neighborhood would cease to exist under California’s latest housing legislation.
“The narrative says there is a need for affordable housing,” McElroy told The Epoch Times. “But the apartments that are built will sell at market rate and destroy the homes of the working class.”
According to a 2018 U.S. Census study, as of that year, there were 1.2 million vacant properties in California.
Nearly 100,000 of those properties sat empty in Los Angeles, according to a 2020 UCLA study (pdf).
“This is the problem,” McElroy said. “You have a lot of vacancies. A lot of the homelessness comes from the people who own the apartments with the rent so high. These large conglomerations and investors, they’re buying apartments, they quickly evict the family, and then they put the rent so high no one can afford it.”
When John Heath founded in 2016 the United Homeowners Association, a nonprofit organization representing over 11,000 residents in unincorporated communities in Los Angeles, California ranked 49th in homeownership and last place in overall affordability.
Heath, who has been a resident of View Park in South Los Angeles since the mid-1960s, said that what’s happening now is that well-heeled developers target “low-hanging fruit” neighborhoods, or cheap land, only to buy low and sell high.
“Now, you’re not even competing with other normal human beings,” Heath said. “You’re competing with Wall Street. People that can just outbid you and can show up with cash. They don’t need financing. They’re not regular people like you and me.”
As a proponent of the ballot initiative and the voice for his homeowner’s association, Heath said he, too, is worried.
“When you have people coming in basically scraping everything off the table and leaving a few crumbs for everybody else, that usually doesn’t work out so well,” Heath said. “And that’s exactly what these policies are going to facilitate.”