A plan to help Santa Clara deal with the implementation of SB 9, the new state law that allows single-family homeowners to divide their lots and create a second housing unit, stalled at the May 11 Planning Commission meeting.
City staff presented commissioners with proposed amendments to the General Plan that would allow the City to better manage SB 9 applications moving forward.
The new state law means Santa Clara must approve all eligible SB 9 applications without ministerial review provided the application meets eligibility criteria and objective standards.
“What we’re doing tonight is attempting to preserve what little authority that we have left,” Assistant City Attorney Xander Abbe told the Planning Commission.
City staff asked commissioners to outline criteria for City standards including the maximum allowable size for an SB 9 unit, parking standards and privacy requirements. Staff said anything adopted under SB 9 would also apply to accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
The sticking point during discussion was the current 20-foot setback required at the front of single-family properties.
Commissioner Yuki Ikezi felt that given the Bay Area’s housing shortage, all available land should be used, including the front setback.
“But why do we need a front yard? Nobody sees it. If the homeowner wants to provide some outdoor space to create an outdoor space, then sure, but we don’t need to prescribe it with this requirement,” said Ikezi. “It really restricts the amount of buildable space…I think we should allow building because we have a housing shortage.”
Planning Commission Chair Nancy Biagini politely disagreed.
“I can’t agree with that,” said Biagini. “I think you can still build and yet have that kind of space for human beings, green space, whatever you want to call it because I think that is a part of city living that’s important and I don’t want to see us take it away.”
Ikezi moved to use the front yard space for off-street parking. She asked that commissioners amend the staff recommendation so that parking in front of a house would meet parking requirements for SB 9 projects in Santa Clara. The current proposal says the fulfillment of any parking requirement must occur past the 20-foot setback.
Commissioner Lance Saleme did not agree.
“I’m fundamentally not in favor of anything that turns a front lawn or front yard into a parking lot,” said Saleme. “I don’t object to the idea of removing the covered parking stipulation. I’m sure a parking pad or something beyond that 20-foot setback would be perfectly fine. I don’t see any issues with that. But I’m not in favor of seeing our communities turned into front yard parking.”
With Commissioners Ricci Herro and Priya Cherukuru absent, Ikezi needed four of the five remaining commissioners to agree. Commissioners Qian Huang and Yashraj Bhatnagar voted in favor of the change, while Biagini and Saleme voted against it.
Ikezi felt strongly about the need. She asked that the Planning Commission take up the issue again at the next meeting. Commissioners unanimously agreed.
The next Planning Commission meeting is May 25 at 6 p.m. It will be a hybrid meeting with some of the commissioners attending in Council Chambers.