Four California Cities File Lawsuit to Stop SB-9


Four California Cities, Redondo Beach, Carson City, Torrance and Whittier have filed a lawsuit to block the implementation of Senate Bill 9.

Here are the arguments in that lawsuit. The full filing is available here.

1. Petitioners/Plaintiffs City of Redondo Beach, City of Carson, City of Torrance, and City of Whittier bring this action to uphold the California Constitution and prevent the State of California from usurping a charter city’s land use authority, which is a uniquely municipal affair.
As the California Supreme Court has opined: “Charter cities are specifically authorized by our state Constitution to govern themselves, free of state legislative intrusion, as to those matters deemed municipal affairs.As to municipal affairs, “charter cities are ‘supreme and beyond the reach of legislative enactment.’” 
2. It is undisputed that planning and zoning laws are matters of municipal affairs. The constitutional right of municipalities to zone single-family residential districts and the sanctioning principle upon which that right is founded has been well settled law for almost 100 years.  Likewise, the right of housing development approvals has historically been a municipal affair.
3. Thus, any legislative enactment to curtail a matter of municipal affair must be a subject of statewide concern, and such enactment must be “‘reasonably related to…resolution’ of that concern” and “‘narrowly tailored’ to avoid unnecessary interference in local governance.”
4. In enacting Senate Bill 9 (“SB 9”) in 2021, the State of California eviscerated a city’s local control over land use decisions and a community-tailored zoning process. SB 9 provides a ministerial approval process, without any discretionary review or hearings, for property owners to subdivide a residential parcel into two lots and to build up to two primary homes on each resulting lot. With the combination of SB 9 and/or previously adopted accessory dwelling unit (“ADU”) laws, one single-family parcel may now have up to four homes, notwithstanding any city’s general
plan or local zoning laws prohibiting otherwise. In essence, SB 9 eliminates local authority to create single-family zoning districts and approve housing developments, a right that has existed for practically a century.
5. Through SB 9 the State has impinged upon local control in a manner that is not reasonably related to its stated State interest. SB 9 cites ensuring access to affordable housing as a matter of statewide concern that justifies its applicability to charter cities, but the bill does not require the newly created homes or the lots to have any affordability covenants or to be restricted to moderate- or lower-income households. Thus, in very urbanized areas where housing demand and prices are high, SB 9 housing developments could be sold or leased at market rate prices, which would do nothing to address housing affordability, and could exacerbate unaffordability by taking away potential affordable housing locations.
6. SB 9 also intended to allow the average single-family homeowner to split their lot and create duplexes and ADUs. Instead, developers and institutional investors with deep pockets are more likely to take advantage of SB 9. The new bill will raise land and home values, particularly in already very urbanized areas, making it harder for first-time homebuyers to get their foothold on the American Dream and further alienating lower-income households. Additionally, some advocacy groups claim that developers are likely to target communities of color, in areas where land is relatively cheaper, and demolish houses to build high-cost rentals that would limit the ability of minorities to build wealth, exacerbating inequalities and promoting gentrification.
7. In addition, the State has impinged upon local control in a manner that is not narrowly tailored to avoid unnecessary interference in local governance. With the addition of up to four times as many homes in an existing neighborhood under SB 9, the threat of adverse impacts is imminent. Although SB 9 allows a city to deny a project that would have specific and significant adverse impacts, such impacts are limited only to objective public health or safety concerns.
However, there are many environmental and community concerns that are not considered “objective public health or safety concerns” under SB 9. For example, local ordinances – such as those that preserve trees or views or create bike paths or open space – address important climate change, greenhouse gases, and community concerns but do not rise to the level of objective public health or safety concerns as contemplated under SB 9.
8. Even if an adverse impact is considered an “objective public health or safety concern,” one housing project built under SB 9 may not have a significant enough impact on an individual basis, such that it could be denied in accordance with the bill. Nonetheless, the cumulative impacts of several housing projects within a single neighborhood on public health or safety could still be significant. Specifically, the addition of up to four times as many families in existing neighborhoods will undoubtedly impact schools with increased class sizes, exacerbate traffic congestion, and create parking deficiencies. There will also be  increased need for water and sewer capacity, use of utilities, maintenance and replacement of physical infrastructure, and demand for emergency access and response. Petitioners cannot address these cumulative impacts under SB 9 on an individual basis for each housing project.
9. Petitioners recognize that housing, including housing affordability, are serious issues that must be addressed at both the State and local levels. In fact, Petitioners have been proactive in finding ways to provide more housing and affordable housing for residents. For example, the Cities of Redondo Beach and Torrance sponsor a Section 8 Housing Program and an Emergency Housing Vouchers Program, and the City of Redondo Beach is in process to adopt an inclusionary housing ordinance for affordable housing that mandates affordable housing be constructed for projects over 10 units. The City of Whittier too has an existing inclusionary housing ordinance for affordable housing for housing projects over 7 units. Also, the City of Carson is in the process of adopting a below market rate housing ordinance with an inclusionary housing component to increase affordable housing stock within its community. Over the past two decades, the City of Carson, through the Carson Housing Authority, assisted in the development of almost 1,000 affordable housing units, and over 900 housing units are currently under construction or approved  within the community.
10. Petitioners are partners with the State and will continue to cooperate with the State to find comprehensive and creative solutions to the lack of housing and affordable housing, but this must be done in a way that addresses each community’s unique needs and opportunities that provide solutions tailored for each community. SB 9, however, is overly broad and therefore ignores communities and their single-family residents and by impeding local and well-thought out responses to the lack of affordable housing.. The bill is short-sighted, counter-productive to the State’s housing goals and objectives, and hinders the role of charter cities such as Petitioners in effectively and efficiently creating and promoting opportunities for affordable housing development.
11. Accordingly, this lawsuit is necessary to protect the rights of charter cities to maintain local land use and zoning control for the benefit of their communities without the State’s intervention on a matter that may be of statewide concern but whose legislative enactments under SB 9 are not reasonably related to resolving those interests nor narrowly tailored to avoid interference with local  government.

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