The SB 9 Handbook for

City Officials

Senate Bill 9 has the potential to help achieve your city’s Housing Element goals, alleviate displacement and homelessness, and generate more tax revenue for your city.
“SB 9 is about opening the door for more families to pursue their version of the California Dream—whether that's building a home for an elderly parent, creating a new source of income, or buying that first house. It's about opportunity.”
— Senator Toni Atkins
Author of SB 9

Despite the numerous benefits of Senate Bill 9, widespread confusion, fear, and misinformation surrounding the new law have caused many homeowners and city officials to see it is a threat to the neighborhoods they love. But when implemented with thoughtfulness and care, SB 9 can help cities of all sizes expand housing in a sustainable way.

In the following guide, we’ll give suggestions for amending your zoning code to support SB 9’s light-touch density potential without sacrificing the character that makes your city unique.

Do you need an ordinance?

Because Senate Bill 9 is a state law that has already gone into effect, it automatically applies to your jurisdiction. Crafting city-specific guidelines is optional, and many cities across the state feel confident in the new law and don’t feel the need to make their own adjustments.

Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley have all adopted the state law without adding local limits or requirements. Many smaller cities—like Bakersfield, Chula Vista, Hayward, and San Luis Obispo—have opted for the same.

Ask yourself whether your city truly needs an ordinance, or if the state law as written is sufficient for your jurisdiction. You might consider foregoing an ordinance and putting out an SB 9 guide instead. This document explains the state law provisions in a clear, accessible way and helps applicants navigate the local application process.

Good example: The City of Los Angeles

Considerations for local ordinances

Perhaps you’ve determined that Senate Bill 9 as written does not fully fit the needs of your jurisdiction or requires further clarification, and you want to amend your city’s municipal code to specifically address SB 9.

Many cities have used restrictive ordinances to discourage or complicate SB 9 development, but ordinances should be used to expand upon SB 9’s capabilities rather than restrict them.

The following section addresses the elements most commonly included in SB 9 ordinances and offers our suggestions for crafting implementation guidelines that meet your cities needs while responsibly supporting SB 9 development.

Click on the section headers below to expand and read more.

Eligible Districts

State law requirements

To be eligible for an SB 9 lot split or housing development, the parcel must located “within a city, the boundaries of which include some portion of either an urbanized area or urban cluster, as designated by the United States Census Bureau, or, for unincorporated areas, a legal parcel wholly within the boundaries of an urbanized area or urban cluster, as designated by the United States Census Bureau.”

SB 9 urban lot splits and two-unit developments must be allowed in all single-family residential districts that meet the qualifications outlined above, with exceptions for:

  • Conservation and protected species habitat areas
  • Prime farmland
  • Historic districts and historic or landmark properties
  • Very high fire severity zones*
  • Delineated earthquake fault zones*
  • Hazardous waste sites*
  • Coastal zones*
  • Flood zones*

Zones marked with an asterisk may be eligible for SB 9 only if special precautions are taken to make the site and structure safe for its inhabitants and surroundings.

Refer to the California Government Code Title 7 on Planning and Land Use for more information.

Our recommendations

  • Allow SB 9 development in all single-family residential zones
  • Don’t upzone or create new districts and/or overlays to exempt parts (or all) of your city from SB 9 eligibility
  • If there are concerns for sensitive areas in your city (e.g. high fire severity zones, earthquake fault zones, etc) we recommend allowing development as long as safety precautions are followed
  • Consider allowing some SB 9 development within historic districts/properties: for example, a single family home in an historic district may be converted into a duplex, provided that no exterior structural changes are made to the building

Why?

Placing further restrictions on SB 9-eligible zones discourages development and violates state law. By allowing SB 9 projects in all single-family residential zones (with limited exceptions for sensitive geographic areas), you allow more opportunities for much-needed urban infill.

SB 9 City Guides

In our SB 9 City Guides methodology, jurisdictions are rewarded for expanding the areas where SB 9 projects are permitted, and penalized for restricting allowable zoning districts.

Allowable SB 9 Dwelling Units

State law requirements

Senate Bill 9 allows cities to prohibit the building of new ADUs on SB 9 projects that include both a lot split and a two-unit development

ADUs and JADUs ordinarily allowed in the zone should apply to all other SB 9 projects (i.e. two primary units on an intact lot; a split lot with one single-family home)

SB 9 single-family unit with no lot split - cities must allow ADUs
SB 9 single-family unit on a split lot - cities must allow ADUs
SB 9 two-unit developments on split lots - cities not required to allow ADUs

Our recommendation

  • Allow ADUs and/or JADUs on lot split/two-unit projects

Why?

Every residential unit added helps alleviate the housing crisis. To strongly support your citizens and provide adequate housing, consider expanding upon the number of units allowed.

Restricting the number of units on a lot works against SB 9’s ultimate goal, which is to add light-touch density in urban areas and thus expand housing supply across all income levels.

Good examples

Encinitas

“Up to two accessory dwelling units pursuant to Section 30.48.040 (Accessory Dwelling Units) of this code may be proposed in addition to the two units constructed pursuant to this section on a lot. On parcels that propose both a two-unit residential development and an Urban Lot Split, ADUs will be permitted if all objective zoning standards are met.”

San Rafael

“Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (JADUs) shall be permitted as set forth in Section 14.16.285 – Accessory Dwelling Units on parcels not created through an Urban Lot Split (Chapter 15.155).
f. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) shall be permitted as set below on parcels created through an Urban Lot Split (Chapter 15.155).

i. A Two-Unit Housing Development proposing one primary dwelling unit shall be permitted ADUs and JADUs as set forth in Section 14.16.285 – Accessory Dwelling Units.

ii. A Two-Unit Housing Development proposing a total of two primary dwelling units shall be permitted one ADU per dwelling unit with a maximum size of less than 500 square feet. All other provisions and development standards of Section 14.16.285. shall apply.
iii. Any ADU 500 square feet or greater that was issued a building permit prior to the date of the first reading of this ordinance shall not otherwise preclude development pursuant to this Section.”

SB 9 City Guides

Jurisdictions are rewarded for allowing ADUs and JADUs two-unit lot split projects and penalized for restricting ADUs on other SB 9 projects.

Lot Configuration

State law requirements

Senate Bill 9 indicates the following about lot configuration for urban lot splits:

  • Cities must allow lots as small as 1,200 square feet, but can allow smaller lots via local ordinance
  • Lot split must be between 50/50 and 60/40

Our recommendation

  • Allow flag lots and unusual lot shapes
  • Allow lot splits on vacant lots (intent to occupy affidavit can be signed upon completion of a residential unit on the property)

Why?

It’s unnecessarily restrictive (and can prevent development) to only allow square lots or perpendicular down-the-center lot splits. Allowing flexibility in lot configuration will accommodate the creation of more homes.

SB 9 City Guides

In our City Guides, jurisdictions are penalized for including additional lot configuration requirements in their ordinances (e.g. preventing flag lots or splitting vacant lots).

Square Footage Limits

State law requirements

Senate Bill 9 states that cities may impose objective design standards for SB 9 projects, “unless those standards would have the effect of physically precluding the construction of 2 units, as defined, on either of the resulting parcels or physically precluding either of the 2 units from being at least 800 square feet in floor area.”

Our recommendation

  • Don’t impose special size limits on SB 9 units
  • Instead, allow existing zone-standard floor area ratio (FAR)
  • Consider expanding upon FAR for SB 9 projects, especially for split and/or small lots

Why?

Restricting unit size (especially to the legal minimum of 800 square feet) can make development financially infeasible. Because split lots will be smaller than average, expanding allowable FAR to 50% or greater will help allow financially feasible units

SB 9 City Guides

Jurisdictions are penalized for placing square footage limits on new SB 9 units.

Height Requirements

State law requirements

Unit height standards are not addressed in the text of Senate Bill 9, but they fall under the category of objective development standards. Height limits may not be used to prevent the building of two units of at least 800 square feet each (or one new unit and one existing unit).

Our recommendation

  • SB 9 units should have the same height limits as single-family homes in the zone. We recommend allowing 35’ and 2 stories.

Why?

Restrictive building height limits—especially when paired with low lot coverage allowances—can prevent or severely limit SB 9 development and financial feasibility.

Furthermore, low ceiling height can make units less desirable.

SB 9 City Guides

Jurisdictions are penalized for imposing height limits on SB 9 units.

Setbacks

State law requirements

Senate Bill 9 states that cities cannot impose side and rear setbacks minimums that are greater than 4 feet. The law doesn’t address front setbacks, nor does it distinguish between interior-side and street-side (for corner lots).

Additionally, it declares that cities may not require setbacks for existing structures or for structures constructed in the same location and to the same dimensions as an existing structure.

Our recommendation

  • Adhere to 4’ side and rear setbacks (or better yet, waive or reduce them)
  • Allow reduced front setbacks

Why?

Requiring large setbacks reduces the amount of buildable area and can prevent or complicate SB 9 development.

Good Example

San Diego
“A) No setback is required for an existing structure that is converted to a dwelling unit. In addition, a dwelling unit that is constructed in the same location and within the same building envelope as an existing structure may continue to observe the same setbacks as the structure it replaced.

(B) Dwelling units must comply with the front yard and street side yard setbacks of the base zone. Interior side yard and rear yard setbacks for dwelling unit shall be provided as follows:

(i) One-story dwelling units with a structure height of 16 feet or less shall have zero setbacks in the interior side yards and rear yards.

(ii) One-story dwelling units with a structure height that exceeds 16 feet and multi-story dwelling units shall observe zero setbacks in the interior side yards and rear yards, unless the side or rear property line abuts another premises that is that is residentially zoned or developed with exclusively residential uses, in which case a 4-foot setback shall apply.”

SB 9 City Guides

Jurisdictions are rewarded for especially lenient setback requirements and penalized for imposing larger front and/or street-side setbacks than required for the zone. Cities are further penalized for imposing all zone-standard setbacks (i.e. not adhering to 4’ side and rear minimum setbacks), which violates state law.

Easements and Lot Access

State law requirements

For lots created via an SB 9 urban lot split, the state law says that cities may require:

  • Easements for the provision of public services and facilities
  • That the parcels have access to, provide access to, or adjoin the public right-of-way

Our recommendation

  • Allow lot access via easements rather than requiring direct frontage on a public street

Why?

Like setbacks, easements (or lack thereof) can be used to restrict the amount of developable area on a lot, or make certain lot configurations infeasible. Allowing street access via easement renders more lots eligible for SB 9 urban lot splits.

SB 9 City Guides

Jurisdictions are penalized for requiring direct frontage or imposing excessive easements that could prevent lot splits on otherwise eligible parcels.

Parking Requirements

State law requirements

Cities may require one off-street parking spot per unit. No parking may be required for properties located within:

  • One-half mile walking distance of either a high-quality transit corridor (as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 21155 of the Public Resources Code) or a major transit stop (as defined in Section 21064.3 of the Public Resources Code).
  • One block of a car share vehicle

Our recommendation

  • Waive parking requirements for SB 9 projects
  • If you must include a parking requirement, we encourage you to not place limitations on the kind of parking allowed

Why?

Cities don’t have to require parking, and waiving parking requirements allows for more buildable area on a lot.

Furthermore, studies show that fewer parking spaces leads to fewer cars, which is better for traffic, noise pollution, and the environment.

Requiring fully or partially enclosed parking to specified dimensions can add additional expense to a project and reduce developable area. If you do elect to require parking, please allow the spaces to be open-air.

Good Example

San Diego
“(A) Within a transit priority area, no off-street parking spaces are required.

(B) Outside of a transit priority area, off-street parking spaces shall be provided as follows:

(i) One off-street parking space per dwelling unit shall be required for the third and fourth dwelling units constructed on one premises. Off-street parking spaces are not required for the first two dwelling units.”

SB 9 City Guides

Jurisdictions are rewarded for voluntarily waiving parking requirements recommended by the state and are penalized for imposing restrictive parking requirements on SB 9 projects.

Utilities

State law requirements

Senate Bill 9 makes one brief mention of utilities by suggesting cities require the following:

“For residential units connected to an onsite wastewater treatment system, a percolation test completed within the last 5 years, or, if the percolation test has been recertified, within the last 10 years.”

Our recommendation

  • Allow shared connections between different units on the same lot (especially if separate conveyance is not allowed)
  • Avoid placing excessive restrictions on utilities (e.g. requiring that utilities be underground and/or hidden from street view)
  • Consider allowing shared connections for split lots (though you’ll want to ensure that the units are metered separately)

Why?

Additional utility requirements can add unnecessary expense to and/or needlessly complicate SB 9 projects.

SB 9 City Guides

Jurisdictions are penalized for excessive utility requirements.

Design Standards

State law requirements

Senate Bill 9 allows cities to impose objective design standards on SB 9 projects, but these standards may not preclude up to two primary units of at least 800 square feet each.

Our recommendation

  • Limit design requirements as much as possible

Why?

Architectural cohesion can play a role in maintaining a neighborhood’s “character,” but enforcing a number of architectural requirements and prohibitions places an undue burden on applicants and can complicate projects and/or increase development costs.

Some cities require that new units “match” neighboring architectural styles, but such requirements are arguably subjective. Because SB 9 dictates that all standards much be objective, requirements such as these may be in violation of the state law.

Furthermore, the number of SB 9 units will be comparatively quite small. Deviations from the standard architectural styles are unlikely to make a perceivable difference in neighborhood character.

SB 9 City Guides

All design review standards outlined in the ordinance are judged in relation to the jurisdiction’s general SB 9 friendliness. Jurisdictions are penalized for design review standards that are deemed “excessive.”

Landscaping Requirements

State law requirements

Landscaping requirements are not directly addressed in Senate Bill 9, but fall under the general category of “objective design requirements.”

Our recommendation

  • Avoid imposing special landscaping requirements for SB 9 projects, and consider waiving zone-standard requirements

Why?

While maintaining green space and tree cover is important, landscaping requirements can add additional expense to SB 9 projects and limit the buildable area of a lot.

SB 9 City Guides

Cities are penalized for implementing landscaping requirements.

Occupancy Standards

State law requirements

Senate Bill 9 includes the following requirements and restrictions:

  • All units must be for residential use only
  • SB 9 units may only be rented for a term longer than 30 days
  • Lot split applicants must sign an affidavit stating their intent to live in one of the two lots for three years following the lot split. No additional owner occupancy requirements are allowed for lot splits.
  • SB 9 may not be used on parcels with a history of tenant eviction within the last 15 years
  • No demolition or alteration allowed on:

a) Covenant, ordinance, or law-restricted moderate, low, or very low income housing

b) Rent or price controlled housing

c) Housing that’s been tenant-occupied within the last three years

Our recommendation

  • Avoid additional owner occupancy requirements
  • Avoid income requirements

Why?

Some cities choose to extend owner occupancy requirements to two-unit developments on intact lots, but we caution against this. Owner occupancy requirements reduce the number of available units on the market and can discourage development.

Affordability requirements may seem like an altruistic addition, but unfortunately they only work on a large scale (e.g. 10+ units). Without market-rate units to subsidize the cost of labor and materials, affordability requirements make development financially infeasible.

To learn more, read our article on affordability requirements.

SB 9 City Guides

Jurisdictions are penalized for imposing affordability and/or additional owner occupancy standards on SB 9 projects.

Bureaucratic Process

State law requirements

The only bureaucratic requirement specified in the state law is the aforementioned owner occupancy affidavit.

Our recommendation

  • Avoid additional bureaucratic requirements

Why?

Requiring additional reports and/or paperwork from specialists and surveyors—particularly when it’s beyond the scope of what’s required for single family homes in the zone—can impede development. Most SB 9 projects are smaller in scope than the typical SFH development and therefore it does not follow that they should be under increased scrutiny.

Additionally, many bureaucratic requirements are expensive and time-consuming for SB 9 applicants, sometimes to the point that potential applicants abandon the process.

SB 9 City Guides

Jurisdictions are penalized for adding excessive bureaucratic requirements to the SB 9 application process.

Application Timeline Review

State law requirements

Senate Bill 9 indicates how long an approved tentative map is valid before expiring, but does not give specific guidelines for a city’s application review timeline.

Our recommendation

  • Include an application review timeline in your ordinance, with projects receiving automatic approval if city fails to meet deadline

Why?

Including an application review timeline is helpful for applicants because it gives them an idea of how long the process will take. Timeline uncertainty can have financial consequences and, in some cases, make SB 9 inaccessible for otherwise enthusiastic applicants.

Good Example

Encinitas
“Within 60 calendar days after a complete application for an urban lot split map is filed with the City, the Development Services Director, or designee, shall ministerially approve or disapprove such map. The time limit specified in this paragraph may be extended by mutual consent of the applicant and the city. If the urban lot split map is disapproved, the reasons therefore shall be stated in the notice of disapproval.”

SB 9 City Guides

Jurisdictions are rewarded for clarifying their review timelines.

Fees

State law requirements

Senate Bill 9 does not make direct mention of fees within the text of the law.

Our recommendation

  • Fees should be minimal and aligned with the scope of the project
  • To incentivize and support SB 9 development, consider waiving some development and/or impact fees
  • Include the fees in the text of your ordinance and/or on your planning department’s website to make them easy to find and understand

Why?

Fees can present a substantial upfront cost to homeowners, and can ultimately make SB 9 inaccessible for many applicants.

SB 9 City Guides

Jurisdictions are penalized for levying excessive fees on SB 9 projects, and are rewarded for reducing the SB 9 fee schedule as compared to that of standard single-family residential development in their city.

Other Recommendations

Aside from implementing an ordinance, there are some other actions you can take to support SB. development within your city.

We recommend that you consider:

  • Releasing an SB 9 Guide to help residents understand the application process
  • Making the application process as simple, straightforward, and accessible as possible by including all application materials on your planning department’s website
  • Including all fees that apply to SB 9 projects—even if they are consistent with fees for single-family developments—in the SB 9 section of your planning department website. This makes it easier for the average homeowner (who is unaccustomed to real estate development practices) to identify and comprehend the fees.

Good Example

Unincorporated San Diego County

San Diego County has a very straightforward application process and SB 9 guide, as well as an eligibility search tool.

Here to Help

Our SB 9 research team has read scores of ordinances and is familiar with a wide range of SB 9 interpretations.

If you have questions or concerns about SB 9 implementation, we’re happy to consult.

To learn more about SB 9 implementation in jurisdictions around the state, visit our SB 9 City Guides and read the implementation articles in our SB 9 Library.

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1423 Stanford Dr

  • Zoned for residential
  • In a flood zone
  • Not in a fault zone
  • Not in a high fire zone
  • Zoned for SB 9