The good folks at the Terner Center just came out with some new research on SB 9, the 2021 state duplex and lot split bill, finding that it has led to almost no new housing being built. This post is about how SB 9 could be tweaked to be more effective.

The most significant part of the Terner Center piece is the table that outlines how many SB 9 applications sixteen California cities have received since the law went into effect in January 2022:

The relatively low number of applications and approvals in Los Angeles jumped out at me because while many California cities have enacted extremely stringent standards for SB 9 lot splits and duplex developments, Los Angeles refrained from layering on any additional requirements beyond what state law specified, instead opting to adopt a pretty permissive policy. (If you want to see how your city’s SB 9 ordinance compares, developed this excellent Citygrades website that ranks each jurisdiction’s friendliness to development. I did some of the research and can vouch for the grading system’s soundness)

Given LA’s relative openness to SB 9 development, it’s remarkable that the city has received fewer than 250 applications in total and has approved only 38 units. (For reference, LA City received 3,818 ADU applications in the first 3 quarters after the 2017 ADU reforms went into effect, up from 257 in 2016.)

So it’s clear that SB 9 isn’t living up to its proponents’ hopes or its opponents’ fears. What can we do to strengthen it? David Garcia and Muhammad Alameldin lay out three major themes:

First, more prescriptive state standards. Garcia and Alameldin point to state ADU law, which limits impact fees, establishes flexible design standards, and forbids owner-occupancy requirements, as a guide for strengthening SB 9. Beyond that, the state should outlaw the tricks that bad-actor cities are using to make SB 9 development infeasible, like onerous affordability requirements, excessive design standards, and requirements that SB 9 units be LEED certified.

At the local level, Garcia and Alameldin urge cities to adopt pro-SB 9 policies like limiting fees, creating clear guidance for homeowners, additional upzoning, and implementing design standards that facilitate several types of small scale infill housing.

Finally, they encourage the state to address homeownership barriers like construction defect laws and provisions in the subdivision map act. The state could also fulfill SB 9’s promise as an affordable homeownership policy by requiring that cities allow what’s called “separate conveyance,” or the sale of each half of a duplex to an individual owner.

Moving forward, look for further SB 9 data to come out later this year, as cities send their annual housing production reports to the state.