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Senate Bill 9 hits a legal speed bump – Orange County Register

The California State Capitol building. (Kent Steffens, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Some of California’s efforts to reduce the housing crisis will take a little longer.

The landmark Senate Bill 9 Housing Act of 2021 hit a speed bump in court.

Simply put, Senate Bill 9 allows owners of single-family zoned lots to subdivide their lots and build two homes per lot. As editorial board member Steven Greenhut explained in 2021: “This is definitely a market solution. Free markets mean that individual investors decide what to build, not government planning officials. By reducing excessive restrictions, the profit motive will drive people to build more housing.”

The goal of SB 9 is ultimately to legalize housing construction in more parts of the state so that the market can better meet the high demand for housing.

But on April 22, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Curtis Kin ruled that the provisions of SB 9 cannot be upheld because they are not “tailored solely to the expressly stated purpose of that legislation – which is to ensure access to affordable housing.” ”

The case included five charter cities as plaintiffs: Redondo Beach, Carson, Torrance, Whittier and Del Mar. Under state law, charter cities enjoy supreme authority over their “municipal affairs.” Currently, 121 of the state’s 478 cities are charters. They are generally larger cities, such as Los Angeles, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Huntington Beach, Riverside and San Bernardino. In contrast, the 376 “general law cities” operate directly under state law and are not affected by the judge’s decision.

The problem Kin had with SB 9 had to do with how “affordable housing” is defined, according to Matthew Lewis, director of communications at the pro-housing California YIMBY. YIMBY stands for “Yes in My Backyard.”

Lewis explains that there are two ways people look at affordable housing, and “people confuse them and conflate them all the time.”

Most people think that promoting affordable housing just means using any means to achieve housing affordability, such as subsidized housing, building more units, or relaxing restrictive building codes to allow more housing to be built.

But an alternative view is to equate “affordable housing” with subsidized housing. Judge Kin used the latter definition. In the judge’s words, he found that Attorney General Rob Bonta, who defended SB 9, presented no evidence that the bill “would result in an increase in the supply of below-market housing,” meaning subsidized housing.

But that poses a problem, Lewis said, because the goal of SB 9, and of state and local pro-housing policies in general, is not just to increase subsidized housing, but all housing. An increased supply of all types is needed to meet demand. Simple as that.

This is especially true when you consider that the state’s population decline has come to an end over the 2020-2022 period. The Treasury Department reported April 30 that the Golden State’s population increased by 67,000 last year. There are more people who need more housing.

What may be needed is for the Legislature to revisit the wording of SB 9 to clarify that it applies to all housing in the state, not just subsidized housing.

However, for now, Lewis insisted, “I think it’s premature to talk about legislation until the legal process has worked its way through the system.”

We consider this a mere postponement. Legal definitions are important. If Judge Kin’s ruling stands, the Legislature will have to enact a remedy.

The bottom line is that if California ever wants to have more affordable housing, it will need more housing. That is a basic economic reality.