California has a bunch of new housing laws, several taking effect in each of the last few years.
They eliminate most single-family R-1 zoning to allow more housing and permit more floors in any new apartment building or condominium structure if it contains a decent percentage of “affordable” or low-income units. One measure also allows more living units by mandating less or no parking spaces in buildings near mass transit stops, on the flawed presumption that no one living there will ever want to own a vehicle.
At times, it seems they’ve forgotten these new buildings are in California and not New York or some other Eastern state where many people neither want to drive nor enjoy driving.
But the most important reality ignored by the housing density enthusiasts who now populate the Legislature and governor’s office may be this: Some of what they’re enabling can conflict directly with other state mandates, notably one that insists California run almost exclusively on carbon-free renewable energy by 2045, just 22 years from now.
The main reason for this conflict? Shade.
Measures like the density bonus given by one California law to developers who put more affordable units than absolutely required into their new buildings allow them to add floors to those structures. That same factor affects the “builders remedy” that allows developers almost a completely free hand on new projects within cities that are late getting state approval for their housing plans.
The nub of the problem is simple: The higher and wider a new multi-story building gets, the more shade it casts over existing nearby buildings. And the more hours shade covers a rooftop, the less solar energy can be produced there.
Reality is that California won’t reach its mandated carbon-free energy future, without huge numbers of solar photovoltaic panels installed atop both houses and commercial buildings.
Yet, the 2021 law known as SB 10, sponsored by San Francisco’s Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener, allows limitless new apartment or condo buildings along all streets classed as “major transit corridors” or within half a mile of a light rail stop. All it takes to create a major transit corridor is for a city or regional bus system to add new routes on any street it wants.
If and when that happens on a large scale, not only will residents of nearby R-1 neighborhoods lose privacy, as their once-secluded backyards become visible to new neighbors living a few floors up, but shadows from large new buildings will shade those existing homes for hours every day. So much for the ability to generate much solar energy, still the key to renewable power even in an era that includes wind energy, geothermal, hydroelectric power and more.
A lot of this has been spelled out graphically by a group of architects in Santa Monica, an independent enclave surrounded on three sides by Los Angeles. In parts of that city, almost every lot is eligible for new construction dwarfing what was standard in the beachside town for generations.
The group, called Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow, notes that an 88-foot-high building on a typical 50 x 150-foot lot would cast shadows over some of its neighbors between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on most days.
So much for the common idea of placing solar panels atop existing nearby two-story commercial structures.
But some new laws propounded in Sacramento over the last three years were neither subjected to such analysis nor vetted for conflicts with other state laws. Taking the word of the state Department of Housing and Community Development that millions of new homes are needed, even in a time of falling population, legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom gladly passed an signed these laws.
It’s an example of lawmakers becoming so preoccupied with one perceived need (even though a 2022 report from the state auditor cast question on documents forming the basis of HCD estimates) that they don’t notice effects on other state mandates.
Of course, there is a solution: Convert existing vacant office buildings and closed big box stores and mini-malls into housing, and you’d create more units faster and while avoiding interference with any other mandates.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.