California Judge Strikes Down Single-Family Lot Splits

California Judge Strikes Down Single-Family Lot Splits

A home with porch lights on in Culver City, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2015. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Aaron Gonzalez
Aaron Gonzalez


Updated: 5/15/2024


Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Curtis Kin on April 22 struck down Senate Bill (SB) 9, which allows property owners in California to split their lots and add up to three accessory dwelling units on their property.
SB 9 was enacted in 2021 to address California’s housing crisis, but last week, Judge Kin sided with the five California charter cities—Carson, Redondo Beach, Torrance, Whittier and Del Mar—that sued the state of California in 2022, contending that SB 9 violates the California constitution.
“Because the provisions of SB 9 are not reasonably related and sufficiently narrowly tailored to the explicitly stated purpose of that legislation—namely, to ensure access to affordable housing—SB 9 cannot stand, and the writ petition must be granted,” Judge Kin wrote in the ruling.
California has 121 charter cities, with the rest of the cities being general law cities that operate under the general laws of the state.
In accordance with the California state constitution, charter cities wield paramount authority in municipal matters, granting them the ability to supersede state laws pertaining to the same subject matter with their own city ordinances.
The state has been ordered to cease enforcement of SB 9 in these five cities, but if the ruling is upheld on appeal, it will effectively overturn SB 9 in all of California’s charter cities.
Under SB 9, local agencies must provide a “ministerial” approval process for any proposed duplex within a single-family residential zone, or for any proposed lot split of a single-family residential parcel.
Lots zoned for single-family homes can be split into two without a city hearing, allowing for the construction of at most four homes where previously only one was permitted, with cities unable to reject such projects except in cases such as historical significance or insufficient lot size.
A survey conducted by Bay Area NPR affiliate KQED across 16 cities of varying sizes in California revealed that between 2022 and 2023, these municipalities collectively endorsed 75 lot-split applications and 112 applications for new units under SB 9.
The news organization noted that over the same period, these cities permitted 8,800 ADUs.
Judge Kin ruled that because the stated intent of SB 9 was to increase access to affordable housing, but it doesn’t require the development of affordable housing, the law fails to meet the standard to override local control over zoning in charter cities and is unconstitutional.
“To justify SB 9’s interference with municipal concerns of land use and zoning regulations, the legislature cannot rely on a potential, eventual decrease in prices resulting from increasing housing supply to demonstrate SB 9 would increase the supply of affordable housing,” Judge Kin said.
A spokesperson for California Attorney General Rob Bonta said, “We are reviewing the decision and will consider all options in defense of SB 9.”
The bill stands out as one of the most prominent legislative measures enacted to address California’s housing affordability challenges. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislators have actively sought to stimulate new home construction through its approval.
“SB 9 is an important tool to combat California’s statewide housing crisis by promoting supply and affordability,” Mr. Bonta said in a 2022 news release. “Our statewide housing shortage and affordability crisis requires collaboration, innovation, and a good faith effort by local governments to increase the housing supply.”
Attorney General Bonta established the Housing Strike Force within the California Department of Justice, which actively oversees adherence to state housing laws, including SB 9.
The state’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, and an estimated 700,000 Californians are at risk of eviction, according to Mr. Bonta. He said high home purchase costs have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.
“California has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address its housing crisis thanks to the historic $22 billion housing and homelessness investments in this year’s budget. But it’ll only work if local governments do their part to zone and permit new housing,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
“This is not a case about whether our state legislature may enact legislation to ensure access to affordable housing or whether it may act to address the different concern of a statewide shortage in housing more generally,” Judge Kin wrote.
As Judge Kin has not yet released his complete order, information regarding the application of his ruling and its rationale are currently unavailable, with the decision remaining subject to appeal.

Aaron Gonzalez is a news reporter based in California. He was born and raised near Monterey in California's Central Coast. In addition to writing, he is passionate about jazz music, poetry, and coffee.

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