ADUs are Not the Answer
December 16, 2021
In response to the affordable housing crisis, California’s lawmakers have changed single-family zoning as we knew it. In 2019, it became easier for owners to build both a full-size Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) (1,200 sq. ft) and Junior ADU (800 sq. ft) on residential lots. In January 2022, Senate Bill 9 (SB9) takes effect. SB9 allows for duplexes to be built on any residential lot. It also allows for lot splitting, in which a current lot can be divided into two. This means that in California with lot-splitting it is now possible to build 4 housing units where a single home previously stood.
However, the majority on the City Council (Alex Fisch, Daniel Lee, and Yasmine-Imani McMorrin) want to go further than state law. They want to permanently change the zoning to allow 4 full-size housing units plus ADUs on each residential lot. This is called “upzoning.” This would allow anyone to tear down a home and replace it with a multi-family unit. Calculations prove that with Culver City land prices, construction, financing, and demolition costs, this would result in triplexes and quadplexes with three to four one-bedroom and two-bedroom units renting for around $7,000 or selling for $1.99 million each.
Council majority promotes an unproven theory called “incremental infill” which increases the number of people living in an area. Unfortunately, this theory has nothing to do with affordability, equity, or equality. It’s just more housing.
The real question is why? Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) requires that Culver City plan for 3,341 housing units to be allowed: 1,108 very low income, 604 low income, 560 moderate-income, and 1,069 above moderate or market-rate units. That’s almost 2,300 very low to moderately priced housing units, i.e. apartments, condos, homes.
According to City Staff, consultants, and planning commissioners, (June 28, November 30, December 10), upzoning residential areas is not needed to meet RHNA requirements and will not result in “affordable housing.”
State law requires the City to create a General Plan Housing Element (“HE”) showing it can allow the different income level housing as mandated. The city submitted the council majority’s plan, and the state replied with a letter stating that it is not compliant with the state law. HCD gave the City 29 major issues they needed to fix. Many including lack of evidence to back assumptions about redevelopment.
The HE controls city zoning minimums for the next 8 years. With all the talk about affordability and equity, the Council majority insists on upzoning to create more expensive housing.
The City Staff projects that only 135 units will be built with the council majority’s upzoning plan.
Changing the zoning for 5,200 residential homes to create 135 mainly market-rate or luxury housing units is an enormous overreach and unnecessary. In its letter, HCD encouraged the City to look for additional methods to meet the full requirements. They have also indicated that they want to pursue shrinking setbacks, eliminating parking requirements, and allowing buildings as big as possible on our low-density residential streets. The City Council majority ignores the fact that many home-owning residents are of moderate or fixed income.
We recognize that our city is ever-changing. We remain focused on the increasing need for affordable and lower-income housing. We are in favor of feasible intelligent development when it focuses on the real need—affordable housing. We want basic protections so that our city preserves the tree canopy, rainwater permeable land, quiet streets for children and pedestrians, sufficient infrastructure (water, sewer, electricity), and walkability, among others.
Possibilities for adding the state-required affordable housing include building along major corridors on lots over half an acre, repurposing shopping centers into mixed-use, converting commercial properties, incentivizing ADUs, and economically stabilizing Clarkdale and West Culver to avoid gentrification and more people being priced out. However, with the upzoning, even fewer people will be able to afford a home in Culver City.
The push for additional luxury housing by the council majority is a true puzzler. The Council majority ignored the hundreds of negative comments and emails that flooded into their inboxes. Moreover, over 200 homeowners wrote HCD to say they didn’t intend to redevelop and were unhappy with the lack of outreach and community-engagement efforts by the city. Culver City Neighbors United (a grassroots, volunteer organization) had to step in when the City failed to properly educate and notify citizens. The City has failed state legal requirements to clearly and diligently inform the community of its intentions and assumptions about the zeal to redevelop. CCNU demands that the City immediately remedy these failures.
Here are some facts:
• Upzoning will result in only 135 expensive housing units
• 75-80% of residents already live within close proximity to their work
• California does not expect any affordable housing to be built on lots under half an acre
• All of Culver City is already suffering under a pollution burden higher than other nearby cities
What can you do? Write letters to HCD, the City assumes you’ll redevelop, so tell them you don’t plan on tearing down your home or commercial property and redevelop. Prove the City wrong. Write letters about the continued lack of proper notice and information to the public. Write to the City Council and demand that they follow the HCD suggestions and concentrate on other solutions. Tell City Council to drop incremental residential infill/upzoning—this is not what our community wants. It won’t create affordable housing, solve inequities, or resolve discrimination.
Check out CulverCityNeighborsUnited.org for the next steps.
Jamie Wallace is President of Culver City Neighbors United