Senator Wiener Introduces Housing Legislation to Increase Baseline Zoning and Provide Cities More Effective Voluntary Tools to Upzone

SB 902 automatically zones for two, three or four units per parcel depending on a city’s size, while also providing cities a new streamlined process to rezone for up to 10 units per parcel
March 10, 2020

Sacramento - Today, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced SB 902, which authorizes two, three or four units of housing per parcel – depending on population – in neighborhoods zoned for lower density, such as single-family zoned areas. Additionally, SB 902 provides cities with a powerful new streamlining tool, if they choose to utilize it, to upzone non-sprawl areas to as many as 10 units per parcel. By allowing cities to increase density in a sensible and streamlined way, SB 902 will help ease California’s housing crisis, spurred by a statewide shortage of 3.5 million homes and California ranking 49 out of 50 states in homes per capita.

Given that cities face significantly increased housing production goals under the revised Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) and are required by the state Housing Element Law to complete rezonings to accommodate these goals, SB 902 is a timely and powerful new tool for cities to use in their comprehensive planning efforts.

By legalizing up to four units of housing per parcel as-of-right, guaranteeing ministerial, non-discretionary approvals and protecting projects from delays or appeals, SB 902 will help alleviate California’s severe housing shortage with light density increases. SB 902 will also help cities that want to increase density even further (up to ten units per parcel) by allowing cities to avoid an unending, expensive, and sometimes impossible rezoning process to effectuate this change.

Regarding SB 902’s provision to allow two, three, or four units per parcel, a city’s population will determine the size that applies. Cities with fewer than 10,000 people and unincorporated counties must allow two units as of right, cities between 10,000 and 50,000 people must allow three units as of right, and cities with over 50,000 residents must allow four units as of right. SB 902 does not change or override accessory dwelling unit requirements under California law, as ADUs are secondary units limited in size. SB 902 is about base zoning, and complements current ADU zoning law.

Regarding SB 902’s provision to allow cities opt-in to higher-density zoning, local governments can choose whether and where (subject to avoiding sprawl) to increase residential zoning up to ten units per parcel. A city or county, through its legislative body, can do so by passing a resolution approving the plan. This rezoning action will not be considered a project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and will be exempt from those regulations. In order to avoid sprawl, the ten unit per parcel zoning under SB 902 will be limited to infill areas as defined by SB 35, a streamlining law authored by Senator Wiener in 2017, and to areas near high quality public transportation or job centers.

SB 902 does not change local height limits, setbacks, objective design standards, historic standards, or demolition restrictions. Moreover, SB 902 contains strong renter protections. Affordable housing and rent-controlled properties cannot be demolished for an SB 902 project. Additionally, if a renter has lived at a property at any point in the past seven years, or if an Ellis Act eviction has occurred in the past 15 years, the property may not be demolished for an SB 902 project.

SB 902 offers modest but meaningful changes to California’s zoning laws and allows for more housing density where it is most needed in collaboration with local governments. SB 902 provides baseline zoning reform – allowing up to four units per parcel – and then lets cities to easily and quickly go beyond that baseline zoning in order to meet housing goals.

According to Senator Wiener:

“SB 902 is a thoughtful and balanced approach to California’s housing crisis, and it will make a significant difference. To tackle California’s severe housing shortage, we must all pitch in. By authorizing two, three and four units per parcel statewide, and by giving cities a powerful new tool to increase density even more, SB 902 recognizes that we’re all in this together and makes it easier for cities to do the right thing.”