• Kristin Brinner

SB9 in Solana Beach - A Fake Controversy

In this heated political climate, hyperbole and misinformation can distort community discussions and mislead the voting public. Unfortunately this ugly reality has reared its head here in Solana Beach, and lies are being spread about what I represent and my goals for the city. False statements are being made that I will single-handedly bring increased housing density, traffic and parking problems to our city. Much of this supposed controversy swirls around Senate Bill 9 (SB9), the state’s subdivision law, that allows lot splits and additional structures on single family properties. This may sound like a big change or frighten some people, but frankly SB9 will be used infrequently in Solana Beach and duplexes are already allowed in many areas of the city. As I have stated previously, I support the existing community regulations regarding residential development, including setbacks and heights. The following Q & A illustrates the reality of SB9 that the opposition willfully ignores:

Question: What is SB9?

Answer: SB9 is a state law that allows certain single home properties to be divided roughly in half and additional dwellings to be built on both halves. The city has adopted SB9, where new homes on divided properties can be no larger than 825 square feet.

Question: Where in Solana Beach are SB9 subdivisions allowed?

Answer: Duplexes - two dwellings on the same property - are ALREADY ALLOWED in many areas of Solana Beach (outlined in dashed blue in the map below). In addition, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) have been allowed in the city for years, and their current maximum size is 1,000 square feet vs 825 square feet for homes on divided lots under SB9. In District 2, use of SB9 subdivisions is limited to homes in the Low-Medium Residential zone, outlined in green.

Map showing where duplexes are allowed in District 2

Question: On properties where subdivisions are allowed under SB9, how likely is it that an additional home will actually be built?

Answer: Unlikely, and here’s why. Under SB9, a property can be divided into two parcels only if the smaller parcel is no less than 40% of the lot area of the original property. In other words the two new parcels must be within a 60-40 split of the property.

To illustrate this point, let’s describe what a typical lot in the Low Medium Residential zone looks like. Lots in this zone must be at least 10,000 square feet. For simplicity’s sake let’s imagine a lot that is 100 ft deep by 100 ft wide. Lots in this zone also have 10 ft side setbacks, and 25 ft front and rear setbacks. If someone had built a one story home in this zone out to the setbacks, they would have a 4000 square foot house. Given the presence of an existing home on this lot, there simply would not be room in most realistic scenarios where the SB9 subdivision could create two lots of approximately equal size.

The only way someone could use SB9 to subdivide a lot that already had an existing home would be if the home was situated in such a way that would allow the lot to be divided in half AND the existing home had a very large backyard that was at least 40% of the lot’s size in order to accommodate the lot split rules (show on the right below).

One additional important note to make about this scenario - this doesn’t differ greatly from the options a homeowner already has for building an ADU in their backyard. The major difference here is that ADUs in Solana Beach are allowed to be up to 1,000 square ft, so the current ADU ordinances allow larger dwellings to be built in backyards than is currently permitted under SB9. ADUs have the same setback rules as SB9 subdivisions as well - 4 ft rear and side setbacks.

As Solana Beach states in its most recent Housing Element, the city is already fairly built out, so there are very few empty lots. In most circumstances, it will simply not be possible to subdivide a lot and place a new home in front of or behind an existing house, because the subdivided lots must be approximately equal in size, and the front yard setbacks are still maintained even under SB9. An existing home on a lot will usually make the subdivision of the lot not possible.

Question: What types of homes could be built on an empty lot in Solana Beach under SB9?

Answer: Under current local implementation of SB9, someone could build four 800-825 square foot units or two 800-825 square foot units. Per SB9, the city can only require 4 ft side and rear setbacks, but the city can set the front setbacks.

There are some older homes in Solana Beach that may have reached the end of their economic life, and there are the rare empty lots as well. These are scenarios where subdivision of a lot becomes more likely. If a homeowner wanted to remove the existing home to clear the lot for subdivision, they could then split the lot approximately in half to build 2 or 4 homes of 800-825 square feet.

Question: Will SB9 displace renters?

Answer: No. SB9 has protections for renters to prevent landlords and developers from displacing renters in order to subdivide lots and construct additional housing. SB9 prohibits demolition or alteration of an existing unit of rent-restricted housing or that has been occupied by a tenant in the last three years. The city further clarified and strengthened this provision by forbidding the SB9 subdivision of any housing that is subject to a recorded covenant, ordinance, or law that restricts rents to levels affordable to persons and families of moderate, low, or very low income.

Question: Will SB9 be a bonanza for professional real estate developers?

Answer: No. An applicant for a two-unit residential development must demonstrate whether any existing housing on the parcel was owner occupied to the city’s satisfaction. Additionally, one of the new dwellings on the lot must be the bona fide principal residence of at least one legal owner of the lot containing the dwelling. Prior to the issuance of a building permit, the applicant shall provide evidence that a covenant has been recorded stating that one of the dwelling units on the lot shall remain owner occupied.

Question: Will SB9 be used for yet more short term rentals or Air BnBs?

Answer: No. Lots split by SB9 can only be used for rentals of terms of longer than thirty days.

Question: Do you have any suggestions to improve the city’s implementation of SB9?

Answer: As I have stated previously, there are a number of ways that we could improve Ordinance 521 to encourage any SB9 subdivisions and development to conform with existing community development standards, including allowances for construction of additional square footage if the development respects the setbacks already established for single family homes, rather than the 4 ft setbacks outlined currently by the ordinance.

Why allow additional square footage if the development respects setbacks? One way to decrease impact, fit with community character, and better conform with community standards regarding setbacks is to allow for larger units if existing setbacks are respected. I honestly believe most people would prefer to have two 2,000 ft2 units in the form of a duplex that wouldn’t deviate from the existing allowed parameters of a single family home that would already be allowed on that lot, with 10ft side setbacks and a 25ft rear setback. To me, this seems preferable to 4 small units that could be placed 4ft from the rear and side setbacks:

It’s unfortunate that Ms. Becker and others on the City Council were unwilling to open this conversation up to the greater public, and passed this major change to the city’s municipal code without wider community engagement. Clearly there is a lot of room for improvement in the current implementation.