Solana Beach City Hall
Solana Beach City Hall / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

You’re not gonna believe this one, but a wealthy coastal city in California is not enthusiastically embracing new measures aimed at providing more housing options along the coast.

The city of Solana Beach sent an email to residents last weekend urging them to take note of two bills written by local lawmakers that are moving their way through the Legislature: SB 9 by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, and AB 500 by Assemblyman Chris Ward.

SB 9 would allow duplexes and four-plexes on single-family lots – it memorably failed at the last second of last year’s session, frustrating housing advocates and causing big tension between Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. AB 500 is a bit more complicated: It would require local governments to amend their local coastal programs to identify when granny flats and supportive housing projects would be exempt from a coastal development permit. It also restores the Coastal Commission’s authority to protect and provide affordable housing in the coastal zone.

The email’s descriptions of both bills include a short line about why proponents think the measure is necessary, followed by much longer descriptions of the potential problems they might cause.

Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner said the city went out of its way to ensure the descriptions were fair, but acknowledged she doesn’t support SB 9.

“We worked our hardest to make it be very unbiased, which is why I didn’t write it because I am very much opposed to it,” Heebner said.

Kristin Brinner, a Solana Beach resident, told me that typically emails from the city share very straightforward content, like information about garbage collection or announcements about concerts in local parks.

“I have never seen one that was discussing potential legislation on a state level,” she said. “I just feel like that’s just not the kind of information that should be shared, period. So I was very surprised that they seemed to be taking a position on state legislation, and then doing almost like a call to action to people to also take positions on that.”

Another person who took note of the email was Atkins. She emailed Solana Beach officials requesting they correct and update several sections of the email.

“In the interest of fairness, I would propose including the following information in the ‘proponents’ section, considering how much was said from opposing views,” she wrote in the email to Solana Beach officials. She requested several changes and additions to the descriptions, including inserting this qualifier, presumably to soothe naysayers: “Any new housing created as a result of this bill must meet a specific list of qualifications that protects historic districts, prevents investor-fueled speculation, preserves environmental quality and the look of communities, and prevents tenants from being displaced.”

Assemblyman Chris Ward told me he thought the characterization of AB 500 in the email was fair, but said Heebner did express some concerns when they met about the measure, including that Solana Beach was being singled out.

Heebner said she thought there was a path for her to supporting AB 500 – she said she appreciates provisions that would streamline the process for approving accessory dwelling units, but is concerned about giving certain powers to the Coastal Commission.

“I think we’ll see some changes about having yet another unelected, bureaucratic body be over our housing policies,” she said.

Solana Beach’s newest housing needs assessment shows the city should be permitting 875 total units over the assessment period, which covers 2021 to 2029. That’s twice as many homes as the state said the city needed during the previous cycle, which covered 2013-2020, yet the city permitted only a tiny fraction of those totals during the period. Last year, the Los Angeles Times detailed the ways in which Solana Beach residents and government officials helped shrink an affordable housing project there, while drawing out the timeline and raising the costs. The efforts were “an alarming example of how political, economic and bureaucratic forces have converged to drive up the cost of such housing at a time when growing numbers of Californians need it,” the Times wrote.

I asked Heebner whether the city plans to update the email with the requests Atkins made. She said many of the points Atkins brought up in favor of the bill, such as the number of parking spots required and the required space between an ADU and the back and sides of a lot, wouldn’t be seen as favorable to her constituents, which was why they were left out to begin with.

“We are a progressive city. We are doing what we can to provide affordable housing. It’s just very difficult in high-land-value areas and SB 9, it’s just illogical for certain areas. It’s not going to work,” she said.

Meanwhile, both measures passed their house of origin this week: SB 9 passed the Senate, and AB 500 passed the Assembly.

Golden State News

Update: This post has been updated to include AB 500’s passage in the Assembly.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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