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Capitol Alert

Gavin Newsom signs granny flat, housing density laws that target California cities


Gov. Gavin Newsom signed several laws Wednesday aimed at increasing housing density by limiting cities’ ability to block new construction and making it easier to build so-called granny flats, part of a larger push to boost supply as California grapples with a severe housing shortage.

The farthest reaching new law will limit “downzoning,” or reducing the number of units that can be built in a particular space, such as only allowing a single-family home on a lot previously zoned for an apartment building.

The law, Senate Bill 330, would also limit cities’ ability to impose new building standards that drive up construction costs. It will be in effect from 2020 until 2025.

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“California’s failure to build enough housing has resulted in the highest rents and home ownership costs in the nation and has deepened homelessness,” said the law’s author, Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

Newsom signed SB 330 alongside several measures to make it easier for people to build so-called accessory dwelling units, or granny flats, on their property.

One new law will limit cities’ ability to prevent homeowners from building second and third units less than 16 feet tall provided there is enough space to build them at least 4 feet from property lines. Another will limit fees cities and counties charge people who want to build additional units.

The bills are part of Newsom’s effort to build more housing in California and bring down costs. While running for governor, he promised to build 3.5 million new homes by 2025. But with permitting rates slowing and prices still rising, he’s not on track to meet that target.

“This is a crisis in the state of California, the crisis of affordability,” Newsom said during a news conference Wednesday. “This issue of affordability must be addressed head on and we need to call local government out for not building enough housing.”

Newsom also signed a separate bill Wednesday morning that steers $331 million to renters and homeowners. The state secured the money in 2012 from banks in a settlement over unfair mortgage practices. California courts determined the state misspent the money, which was intended for homeowners, and directed Newsom and the Legislature to give the money to them.

Newsom says the bill he signed will fix the problem, and emphasized how the money would help renters as well as homeowners during a Wednesday morning news conference he held in San Diego before signing the bill.

When the bill passed the Legislature last month, Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear Lake, supported the bill but said he worried it would direct some money to renters. Although helping renters “may be a worthy cause,” he said he was concerned it could violate the settlement agreement and spark more lawsuits.

Republicans in the Senate voted against the bill, Senate Bill 113, arguing it won’t get the money out to homeowners quickly enough and therefore wouldn’t comply with the court order.

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