San José Adopts Urgency Ordinance on SB 9
San José is a great place to live, due to its Spanish Colonial architecture, highly rated public schools, and abundance of tech jobs. This Silicon Valley hub is one of a growing number of cities to pass an urgency ordinance on Senate Bill 9, which allows homeowners to split their single-family residential lot and built two new units on each parcel.
The ordinance was passed on December 14th, 2021. It became effective immediately and will remain in place until any subsequent legislation replaces it. Senate Bill 9 went into effect statewide on January 1, 2022.
Read Homestead's SB 9 City Guide for San José for a visual breakdown of the ordinance. You can also compare SJ's grade to other cities in Santa Clara County and read local news articles about the new law.
San José’s Interim Ordinance on SB 9
Much of the state law is mandatory for all cities, including a minimum rental period of 30 days for all SB 9 units. Other requirements include an owner occupancy requirement for lot splits and development restrictions for properties where evictions have occurred. In addition to these and other limitations, Senate Bill 9 allows cities to pass their own ordinances for implementing the law.
San José’s urgency ordinance is overall very similar to the state law. However, there are a few key differences between the two documents.
Different from SB 9
Senate Bill 9 gives cities the freedom to adopt objective standards for development and design. These standards must not prevent he building up to two units of at least 800 square feet each. San José elected to include the following provisions that are unique to their local ordinance:
- Lot splits are prohibited on vacant lots
- Floor area limit: SB 9 units are limited to .45 ratio per lot or 800 square feet per unit, whichever is greater
- Height limits: Most SB 9 units are limited to two stories and a maximum height of 30 feet. However, structures located within 20 feet of the rear property line are limited to one story and a maximum height of 20 feet
- Garage size limits: Garage frontage is limited to half the width of attached dwelling structure
- Limits on quantity and type of units:
- For lot splits, only two residential units are allowed per lot. These include primary dwelling units, SB 9 housing development units, ADUs, and/or JADUs
- SB 9 projects that do not include subdivision may build two primary units and one attached or two detached ADUs
- Access requirements: For lot splits, each parcel must have one of the following:
- Minimum 30 feet of frontage on public right of way
- An access corridor measuring no less than 12 feet and no more than 15 feet wide
- An easement measuring no less than 12 feet and no more than 15 feet wide
- Utility requirements: Utility connections must be on the same parcel as unit(s) or within a utility easement
San Jose’s ordinance does not appear to be particularly liberal or restrictive. Although it includes a number of requirements and restrictions, most of these are not repressive.
The hight limits, for example, are actually quite generous. Most cities that impose height restrictions choose stricter limits (typically one story and 16 feet). The access requirements and garage size limits are specific, but they don’t seem designed to discourage development.
The most conservative parts of the ordinance are the floor area limit and restrictions on unit quantity for lot splits. The floor area restriction is not egregious, as the ordinance allows for the greater of two options. And although the limit of two units per subdivided lot is disappointing, it is encouraging that the ordinance allows for up to two accessory dwelling units on intact lots.
San José and SB 9: Past, Present, and Future
Given San José’s historically favorable opinion on Senate Bill 9, it is somewhat surprising that their ordinance is not more welcoming to development. Many San José city officials expressed support for SB 9 prior to issuing an urgency ordinance.
At one point, San José was considering allowing SB 9 development in historic neighborhoods and even on historic properties, as long as the project did not require demolition or serious alteration of the original exterior structure. There were rumors that the city would allow SB 9 development in certain multifamily zones as well. Neither of these provisions made it into the ordinance.
Prior to SB 9’s passing, the city had been developing similar local legislation called Opportunity Housing. That proposal would have given homeowners the right to build up to four new housing units on their property. City Council decided not to pursue the Opportunity Housing initiative and focus instead on Senate Bill 9, as there was significant overlap between the two.
Not all city officials support SB 9, however. San José City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Dev Davis has been quite outspoken against the law, and is leading local signature collection efforts for a measure to overturn it at the state level. Perhaps this opposition can account for some of the less-than-liberal portions of the ordinance.
It is possible that San José will at some point amend their ordinance or adopt a new one. Until that happens, this ordinance will be in effect. Although it may not be the most progressive ordinance in the state, San José is taking steps to allow for moderate densification within their city. Each new unit built helps to alleviate the housing crisis and make the California dream more accessible for a wider range of people.
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