Del Mar approves SB 9 ordinance to allow duplexes, fourplexes on single-family lots

Del Mar Civic Center
(Karen Billing)

Del Mar approved an ordinance June 19 to regulate new development under SB 9, a state law that allows duplexes and fourplexes on most lots that were previously zoned exclusively for single-family housing.

The City Council had already approved a first reading of the ordinance earlier in June.

SB 9 allows duplexes, fourplexes and accessory dwelling units in any combination that adds up to a maximum of four units on lots that are zoned for single-family homes. There are certain exemptions, such as historically designated lots or lots that are also within environmental overlay zones.

Local governments are allowed to apply objective standards to new construction under SB 9, which are limited in scope compared to the more comprehensive review that a project would normally receive in Del Mar from the Design Review Board and Planning Commission.

A UC Berkeley study published in January concluded that the impact of SB 9 on development throughout the state has been “limited” in the one year since the law took effect. The city of Los Angeles received 211 applications for new construction under SB 9 in 2022, far more than any of the other 12 cities that were included in the study. San Francisco came in second with 25 applications. San Diego had only seven.

In Del Mar, city staff has reported that 768 lots are eligible for SB 9 projects, equal to about 38% of the city’s residential lots. The city law has objective design standards that apply to window placement, retaining walls, fencing, lighting and screening. Through the ordinance, and a planned update to the city’s inclusionary housing policy, council members have also said that they want to make sure SB 9 contributes to the city’s affordable housing stock.

Housing advocates throughout the state have expressed concerns that some cities are approving objective design standards that inhibit SB 9 construction.

“I appreciate that we’re trying to strike a balance between following the law and doing it the ‘Del Mar way,’ but I fear this rather exhaustive list of SB-9 regulations will unduly kneecap the intent of the legislation, which is to increase the supply of available housing — full stop,” Del Mar resident Brad Walters wrote in an email to the city ahead of the first June council meeting, when the first reading was approved. “This is certain to invite state scrutiny, perhaps even further delaying the certification of our latest Housing Element.”

State Sen. President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, authored SB 9. Another Atkins bill pending in the Legislature, SB 450, would add a 60-day “shot clock” for local governments to process SB 9 applications. It would also require consistency in the objective standards that local governments apply to SB 9 projects, with the goal of preventing local leaders from making SB 9 development overly burdensome.

SB 450 was approved on the Senate floor 30 to 7 on May 24, with three votes unrecorded.

“Based on feedback from Californians, these amendments make the process easier to follow for homeowners, and help state officials prevent anti-housing cities from dodging their responsibilities,” Atkins said in a statement in March, when she introduced SB 450. “There is so much opportunity in SB 9 – I’m pleased these fixes can help open up even more.”