Del Mar Planning Commission weighs affordability of new housing under SB 9

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

The City Council is scheduled to consider a local ordinance to implement the new state law in June


As Del Mar prepares an ordinance to implement SB 9, the city’s planning commissioners said during a May 9 meeting that they want to maximize the number of affordable housing units that are built.

SB 9, which took effect last year, allows duplexes and fourplexes on most lots that are zoned exclusively for single-family housing. Cities are allowed to apply their own objective design standards, such as square-footage parameters and parking requirements, to new construction under SB 9.

The Del Mar City Council is scheduled to review a potential ordinance, including feedback from the Planning Commission, during its first meeting in June.

Proponents of the new state law argue that too much of the state has been zoned for single-family housing, which is the most expensive type of housing, limiting the ability to add more units that can address skyrocketing rents and other aspects of the housing crisis.

Small, wealthy cities like Del Mar have countered that new housing within their borders will inevitably be expensive, market-rate units that don’t improve the scarcity of options for lower-income tenants. They’ve asked the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development to focus more on affordable housing. Del Mar has also taken part in a pending lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging that SB 9 is unconstitutional.

Even though Del Mar is still trying to meet a state-mandated requirement of 113 new affordable housing units, city staff warned Planning Commissioners about placing too many affordability restrictions on SB 9 construction.

“We are either supposed to create affordable housing or not,” Planning Commissioner Jas Grewal said. “So if we are, why would HCD not look at that in a favorable way?”

State policy has centered more around the philosophy that more housing units of all income levels are part of the solution. A November 2020 report from the state auditor also pointed to a “lack of a coordinated housing plan” at the state level that hinders the construction of affordable housing. And it criticized local governments for putting affordable housing proposals through onerous review processes. The report said that as of July 2019, local jurisdictions had issued building permits for only 11% of the affordable housing units that they had planned to build in their current housing plans.

“What we have to balance is to figure out how we don’t make this infeasible,” said Amanda Lee, the city of Del Mar’s principal planner. “In their eyes, if we start piling on the affordability requirements, that becomes a barrier in their mind.”

City Attorney Ralph Hicks added that other recent state housing laws that streamline construction of accessory dwelling units have prioritized more units without an exclusive focus on affordability.

“The housing theory is create more housing and ultimately it becomes affordable,” Hicks said. “They didn’t add affordability language into those two sets of law because of that legislative intent.”

The city’s latest housing element, which is pending approval by HCD, promised a local ordinance to implement SB 9 would be in place by June 2023.

“Almost from the beginning we’ve been talking about these issues of affordability and opening up more housing all throughout California,” Planning Commissioner John Farrell said. “It’s been front and center for at least the last three years. I think we have to address it. If we don’t address it, I think we’re being negligent in our duties.”