SB 10 Would Allow Cities to Override Some Voter-Approved Ballot Initiatives in California

By Lynn Hackman
Lynn Hackman
Lynn Hackman
Lynn is a reporter for the Southern California edition of The Epoch Times, based in Orange County. She has enjoyed a 25-year career as a senior-level strategic public relations and contingency planning executive. An editor, blogger, and columnist, Lynn also has experience as a television and radio show producer and host. For six years, she was co-host of Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn on KOCI 101.5 FM. She is also active in the Newport Beach community, serving as chair emeritus of the Newport Beach City Arts Commission, among various positions with other local organizations.
August 18, 2021 Updated: August 18, 2021

IRVINE, Calif.—A bill moving through California’s legislature would allow city councils to override some zoning restrictions established by citizen-approved ballot measures in order to attempt to address the “severe shortage of housing at all income levels in this state,” states the bill.

Introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-SF), Senate Bill 10 (SB 10) would allow cities to adopt an ordinance to zone any parcel of land for up to 10 units of housing if it’s in a transit-rich or jobs-rich area or has other specific qualifications.

“If the ordinance supersedes any zoning restriction established by a local voter initiative, the ordinance shall only take effect if adopted by a two-thirds vote of the members of the legislative body,” the bill states.

Critics say these city ordinances wouldn’t require environmental analysis and could override local city zoning, state CEQA laws, and a city’s general plan.

California’s constitution allows voters to use initiatives to protect land areas such as shorelines, canyons, urban boundary lines, historic districts, and single-family neighborhoods from unwanted development projects.

However, SB 10 wouldn’t apply to “any local restriction enacted or approved by a local voter initiative that designates publicly owned land as open-space land … or for park or recreational purposes,” according to the bill.

The development allowed via SB 10 will not be required to be low-income or low-moderate income development and shouldn’t be confused with existing mandates such as the Housing Accountability Act or the housing elements included in the Regional Housing Needs Assessment.

One example of land protections initiated by voters is Dana Point’s Measure H, the Town Center Plan and Parking Citizen Initiative, approved in June 2016.

Measure H regulates development of Dana Point’s town center area, imposing building height restrictions that cap at 40 feet, as well as other building restrictions designed to ensure certain levels of available parking. It includes a requirement that voters approve any changes to the Town Center Plan.

Eric Nelson, city of Dana Point planning commission chair, said that while their Town Center Plan would likely not be impacted much by the passage of SB 10 due to limited residential areas in that part of the city, more regulation only adds to the costs, time frames, and complexity of building projects, and doesn’t improve the housing issues facing California.

“Speaking from my personal viewpoint, I think our legislators have gotten a little too excited about trying to regulate housing,” Nelson told The Epoch Times.

Nelson said he would prefer to see a move toward more deregulation instead of more regulation. “Generally, regulations add complexity, which equals higher costs.”

In addition to the Planning Commission, Nelson is also a board member of the League of California Cities and the Veterans Administration, and he himself is a homebuilder.

“I think we can all agree that housing is a fundamental issue facing the state, and the solutions that have been presented today, in many cases are just untenable,” Nelson said.

“I would suggest we start to look at the regulations that hinder housing and increase the costs of housing first before implementing complete overhauls of local control. No one can regulate into affordability. It’s an impossible thing to do.”

Keeping an Eye on SB 9

Meanwhile, SB 9 would provide duplexes and lot splits in single-family residential zones to be allowed by-right, meaning without case-by-case approvals.

Like SB 9, SB 10 doesn’t include provisions for jurisdictions impacted by the increase in housing density, such as additional sewers, water, road improvements, schools, or parks.

“Our city council has not taken a position on either SB 9 or SB 10,” Kelly Reenders, Dana Point assistant city manager and director of economic development and community services, told The Epoch Times.

“However, I do think a position on SB 9 is being contemplated for a future council meeting, and that it’s being considered to come up for discussion sooner rather than later.”

Nelson acknowledges that there are two sides of the housing coin, but that ultimately, citizens should be able to choose where they live and have a say in the density, safety, and infrastructure issues associated with all development.

“I realize local control can also impact housing scarcity,” Nelson said. “But there’s a reason for it, and most people pick the areas that they live for a reason, and I think we have to respect that. Liking it or not is a whole other thing.

“Of all the bills out there, SB 9 is the one to watch. SB 10 allows projects if a city wishes to up zone R1 property, where SB 9 is a by-right, and that in itself is concerning.

“SB 9 actually would allow a homeowner to subdivide, let’s say what could be a 4,000-square-foot parcel, into two individual lots with duplexes. SB 9 circumvents the Coastal Act and the subdivision Map Act. Those are important acts, there are provisions that give cities the ability to impose fees and infrastructure requirements, and those all go away under SB 9.”

“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do other than try to oppose it,” Nelson said.

California’s Legislature has until Aug. 31 to advance and pass SB 9 and SB 10.

Lynn Hackman
Lynn Hackman
Lynn is a reporter for the Southern California edition of The Epoch Times, based in Orange County. She has enjoyed a 25-year career as a senior-level strategic public relations and contingency planning executive. An editor, blogger, and columnist, Lynn also has experience as a television and radio show producer and host. For six years, she was co-host of Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn on KOCI 101.5 FM. She is also active in the Newport Beach community, serving as chair emeritus of the Newport Beach City Arts Commission, among various positions with other local organizations.