Cities Tackle the Future of Single-Family Zoning, As State Takes Up the Issue Again

Originally posted to Unfamiliar Terrain

By Tay Via & Ashley Weinstein-Carnes

In 2020, California legislators considered but ultimately did not approve bills that would have substantially restricted the continued use of single-family zoning across the state. These efforts included SB 50 (Wiener), which would have required increased residential density near qualifying transit, and SB 1120 (Atkins), which would have allowed duplexes on most residential lots across the state, including single-family zoning districts. Both bills, along with many other 2020 housing bills, died in chambers in the final moments of the legislative session. Read our previous coverage here.

This year, legislators are back at work on similar legislation – SB 10 (Wiener), which would allow cities to up-zone qualifying parcels located in transit- or jobs-rich areas, and SB 9 (Atkins), a reprise of the SB 1120 duplex-zoning efforts. Both bills are already attracting attention from advocates and opponents of prior legislation. California’s effort to increase housing production and density through limits on single-family zoning comes in the wake of similar legislation in other parts of the country. In 2019, Oregon became the first state to adopt legislation effectively banning single-family zoning in many cities, and in 2018, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously voted to update its long-range Comprehensive Plan to eliminate single-family zoning.

Now, a number of California cities – including several in the Bay Area – are taking up the issue directly. The City of Sacramento made headlines last month when its Council unanimously approved a draft proposal to allow up to four units on lots within its single-family and duplex zoning districts. The City of San Jose has established an “Opportunity Housing” task force that will explore allowing up to four units per parcel in residential zones – a significant increase given that approximately 94% of San Jose residential land is designated for single-family housing and only 6% for multifamily. In San Francisco, Supervisor Mandelman has introduced legislation to allow fourplexes on corner lots and other traditional single-family neighborhoods within a half-mile of major transit stops. Most recently, the City of Berkeley unanimously adopted a resolution to begin the process of eliminating single-family residential zoning and allowing for other types of housing such as apartments, duplexes and triplexes in the next few years. Berkeley is also considering legislation that would legalize quadplexes throughout the city. The City of South San Francisco is also beginning to explore the issue.

These efforts to reassess traditional single-family zoning reflect a crossroads for local jurisdictions grappling with competing pressures to retain local control over land use decisions, and address inequitable access to housing, the effects of climate change, and the economic fallout from COVID-19. Taken together, these local proposals would result in more modest increases in residential density compared to proposed state legislation such as SB 10 and similar prior failed bills, but they reflect a growing effort to take on the issue directly at the local level, particularly within transit-rich jurisdictions.

The Coblentz Real Estate team continues to track the progress of these state-wide and local efforts. Please contact a member of our team for additional information and any questions related to the impact of these pending state and local regulations on land use and real estate development.