California Says No to the Future

"In the wake of SB50’s failure, the next steps for California are uncertain. Governor Gavin Newsom campaigned on a fanciful pledge of getting 3.5 million new homes built by 2025. The state has passed some housing bills, including a package of 15 in 2017, but these address only the margins of the problem and are unlikely to have any major effect. SB50 was broadly designed, with the big changes to zoning, but narrowly applied, with the many exemptions. A better approach would be narrowly designed but broadly applied, such as a series of bills, each changing one specific rule but applying it to the whole state.

One option is eliminating single-family zoning statewide, as Oregon recently did. Unlike towering apartment buildings, duplexes and triplexes don’t provoke much opposition, as numerous recent laws legalizing or liberalizing accessory units reflect. If other zoning requirements on height and setbacks are maintained, people may not even notice that a building that looks like a single-family home has two or three front doors. Another step could be making minimum lot size one-eighth or one-sixth of an acre. This will be more controversial, but smaller lot sizes are not unknown in the suburbs (the original Levittown was built on one-eighth-acre lots). Taken together, these two steps could see housing developments with 12-24 units per acre, which would be sufficient for the needs of many parts of the state."