When Governor Newsom signed SB-9 into law in September, it was billed as a sweeping measure that would end restrictive single-family zoning with the stroke of a pen. But in counties all over California — even and especially in liberal areas around the Bay Area and L.A. — local governments are tacking on design ordinances that will make adding units to existing lots nearly as onerous as it would have been before the SB-9 existed.
Here’s an example from Palo Alto:
“One new rule requires at least one second-floor bedroom to have its largest window facing the front lot line. Another prohibits the height of a building’s first-floor eaves or parapets to be more than 18 inches higher than the average height of an eave or parapet of homes on abutting lots.”
That kind of local discretion was baked into the bill’s many provisions, which critics at the time described as loopholes that allow towns and cities to effectively opt-out of the law. Those criticisms are proving to be prescient, with SB-9’s progressive goals being neutralized before the law even begins to take effect on January 1st.