San Diego Planning Commission votes against Senate Bill 10, major single-family home zone change

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San Diego’s Planning Commission unanimously voted against a key part of Mayor Todd Gloria’s housing plan Thursday that would have eliminated single-family zoning in much of the city.

The commission voted to recommend the city’s sweeping Housing Action Package 2.0, but stripped it of its biggest element: Senate Bill 10, which will no longer go before City Council for a vote.

The optional statewide law, a lightning rod in the plan, would have allowed a single-family home to be torn down and replaced with a new structure of up to three stories with up to 10 units in much of the city.

The Planning Commission did include a provision in its vote that would allow for a working group on Senate Bill 10 sometime in the future, but several of the commissioners expressed that they would rather discuss a different proposal other than the Senate bill at the potential meeting. No date was set for the working group.

While it’s possible the City Council could potentially ignore the commission’s recommendations, the mayor’s office confirmed Thursday that it will not be pushing for Senate Bill 10 to be part of the housing package going forward.

Other elements of the overall plan approved by the commissioners include converting unused land for housing, extending building permit times, eliminating parking requirements in many projects and making it easier to build off-campus housing. However, Senate Bill 10 was the main focus of the law and had been championed by the mayor and other local officials for much of this year.

“In my opinion, SB 10 is not the right way to go,” said Planning Commission chair William Hofman. “I think we are going down a wrong path that we won’t be able to retreat from.”

Commissioners Matthew Boomhower and Ted Miyahara were opposed to rejecting Senate Bill 10 outright, instead pushing for a future working group to discuss it.

However, Hofman said he would rather they discuss alternatives to Senate Bill 10, saying he didn’t think it could be reworked.

In a statement following the 6-0 vote, Gloria celebrated the passage of the rest of the plan, noting Senate Bill 10 could be taken up later in a workshop.

“This is a huge win for those who struggle with the high cost of living,” he wrote, “and all San Diegans who benefit from a healthy and balanced housing economy. I look forward to presenting these policies to the City Council for its consideration.”

The meeting lasted nearly six hours with hundreds of speakers on both sides of the issue. Housing advocates and many local lawmakers said San Diego needs to increase density to accommodate new and current residents. Opponents from wide swaths of the city argued the plan would alter the community character of neighborhoods that have existed for decades.

Talmadge resident Paul Krueger said the only thing that matters to single-family homeowners is finding out their next-door neighbor sold their property and someone is building a small apartment building, without parking.

“That matters to you, and every one of your neighbors,” he said. “It happens one time without notice by a developer that refuses to engage the community in any discussion of design or mitigation.”

Many speakers said that Senate Bill 10 should be removed from the overall housing package, including former Planning Commissioner Jim Whalen.

“I struggle with having 10 units on one lot, regardless of lot size. I can’t make that work in my head,” he said. “Perhaps it might make sense to reduce the scope of SB 10 and retool it. Maybe drop to four units a parcel.”

Supporters also made their voices heard, although they were outnumbered by opponents. Many of the supporters said that having the majority of the city zoned for single-family housing — roughly 80 percent of San Diego’s residential land — cut off opportunities for people of color and was discriminatory.

“This would integrate high wealth, high resource neighborhoods,” said Ricardo Flores, executive director of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a nonprofit that works to create financial opportunities for underserved areas with subsidized housing, economic development and education programs.

Pro-housing group YIMBY Democrats of San Diego also said that single-family zoning limited diverse housing options, such as apartments or townhouses. They said greater flexibility in zoning would create more affordable housing.

The commission heard a range of arguments against Senate Bill 10, such as impacts on the sewer system, destruction of trees, turning San Diego “into Los Angeles,” danger to pedestrians with more cars, abundance of trash cans and destruction of historic neighborhoods.

“This would be the most sweeping change in San Diego history,” said Bruce Coons of Save Our Heritage Organisation, a preservationist group, in opposition to Senate Bill 10.

The Housing Action Package will now go to the Land Use and Housing Committee in September for recommendations, and then on to the City Council in October or November.

Parts of the Housing Action Package 2.0 approved by the Planning Commission include:

  • Targeting potentially environmentally hazardous businesses, like scrap yards, for conversion to housing in parts of southeastern San Diego.
  • Incentives for off-campus housing developments near college campuses, such as eliminating the need for agreements with nearby schools.
  • Incentives for the construction of new single-room-occupancy hotels, mainly through an easier approval process.
  • Encouraging development on public or commercial land that is not considered well-used, such as parking lots.
  • Eliminating parking requirements in projects within a half-mile of transit.
  • Extending time for building permits for projects that face unforeseen delays.

Roughly 80 percent of San Diego’s residential land is only zoned for single-family homes. Planning Department staff estimates 126,679 parcels in San Diego would have been eligible for Senate Bill 10. All new developments would need to be within a half-mile of a transit stop, such as a bus stop or trolley station.

Single-family zone changes would have been allowed in most of the city, in what planners called Sustainable Development Areas.

Builders taking advantage of the law would have needed to include one rent-restricted unit if the developer constructed more than four units. The subsidized apartment would have to remain that way for 55 years and include a written agreement with the San Diego Housing Commission.

If the building was in a high- or highest-resource area, as defined by the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, it would have required two affordable units if the builder constructed more than four units. Highest- or high-resource areas are considered wealthier parts of a city where children are shown to have better opportunities. The committee’s map of those areas includes much of South Park, North Park, Hillcrest, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach and La Jolla.

Even if Senate Bill 10 advanced, housing analysts had questioned whether the low-income housing requirements would dissuade builders from taking advantage of the law because it would limit returns, or not be financially feasible.

If San Diego had passed Senate Bill 10, it would have been the first individual city in the state to take advantage of the law. Humboldt County has approved it but is considered to have less of an impact because it is mainly rural, and the bill is largely tied to building around mass transit stops.

Commissioner Kenneth Malbrough was absent for the vote because of an illness.

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