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May 11, 2021

No to Planning San Diego from Sacramento

Response to Senator Toni Atkins' recent Op-Ed in the Sacramento Bee (April 14, 2021)

Regarding Senator Toni Atkins' recent Op-Ed in the Sacramento Bee (April 14, 2021) complaining about opposition to SB-9 (the lot-splitting bill), Neighbors For A Better San Diego is disappointed that Sen. Atkins chooses to criticize her constituents from afar rather than come talk to us about our concerns about SB-9 and other pending and recently enacted bills that threaten to irrevocably change the character of San Diego neighborhoods.

Senate Bill 9 (SB-9), which is the next step in the agenda of moving all city zoning and planning decisions to Sacramento, allows existing single-family parcels to be divided and then redeveloped with multiple housing units on each new parcel. Sen. Atkins' sells SB-9 by saying that it offers "homeowners the opportunity to reimagine their property", but given that we already have existing state and local laws that enable homeowners to build units in their backyards to house family members or generate extra income, it is clear that SB-9 is really about allowing developers, not homeowners, to "reimagine" our neighborhoods.

Our state and local politicians keep trying to soft peddle what they are doing, hoping we won't catch on until it's too late to make changes. If a bill allows for a single property (parcel) to be split into two parcels and developed up to 6 units, then that's the story, and we should be discussing the merits of that, open and honestly. Similar to what was done by calling multi-story ADUs "granny flats", SB-9 is being sold as a "duplex" bill, with the homespun implication that homeowners can split their lots with their children so that they can build a separate house and realize the American dream. Because the law is written to require that the property be split into equal parcels, however, the reality is that the existing structures would typically need to be torn down to make this work. That’s a cost that’s clearly beyond the means of most homeowners. In fact, the cost can only be borne by developers and land speculators, the interest group for whom this bill was apparently written.

Regardless of how the property is redeveloped, politicians hope that merely increasing the housing supply will decrease housing prices and hence increase affordability. Unfortunately, the experience of many cities that have already tried this is that the resulting investor-owned properties are not any more affordable than the structures they replace. In fact, these policies often reduce the inventory of affordable housing by triggering gentrification in low-income neighborhoods with the least travel time to well-paying jobs.

Few people, including single-family homeowners, dispute that a thriving city must address the housing needs of all its residents. But it is eminently reasonable for residents to demand that the city provide details on its intentions, and proof that their policies will produce their intended outcomes, particularly if the people most affected are not being promised anything in return. Unfortunately, rather than persuade the public of the merits of her policies, Sen. Atkins resorts to name-calling in her effort to bully homeowners into accepting these ill-advised changes.

It is ironic that Sen. Atkins’ editorial is accompanied by a photo of Boise, Idaho, with the caption that cash buyers from California are driving up house prices there. This trend will only be accelerated by the California legislature telling its homeowners they are no longer welcome here.

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