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4-plexs coming to your neighborhood via a proposed Sacramento mandate
mcmansion teaser


The neighborhoods around Woodward Park are all single family neighborhoods.

The term “single family” refers to a traditional detached housing designed for one family.

In reality more than one family can live in such a home and even buy such a home.

You can go through single family neighborhoods throughout Manteca and you will find examples of two families living in the same house and rooms being rented to single people. It is how people are coping with the notorious California housing crisis.

It is not uncommon for two unrelated people or households — including those not in a relationship — to secure a mortgage to buy a home together.

It is not illegal to do so. In fact it is against federal law to discriminate by not allowing unrelated people whether they are in a relationship or not to purchase a home together.

Nor is it illegal for more than one family to live in a single family home or to rent out rooms. There are a small but growing number of people buying new homes with three to six bedrooms who immediately post on various websites that they have rooms for rents.

State Senator Scott Weiner of San Francisco is leading the charge in Sacramento to further erode local control in the name of building more housing. Weiner is pushing to expand significantly on such practices by allowing your neighbor — whether they live in the home or are the landlord — to essentially convert it into a fourplex.

Senate Bill 50 is now making its way through the California Legislature will mandate that cities allow such conversions.

This is being done to address the fact the state faces a shortage of 3.5 million homes, has a big affordability problem for both renters and buyers, and had a growing homeless problem.

So what makes Weiner an expert at addressing the California housing crisis? The answer is simple. He was a supervisor for the City and County of San Francisco that arguably has the state’s worst housing crisis in terms of a shortfall of needed units, affordability and even homeless problems. During his term as supervisor all three problems got worse.

Weiner would likely tell you that’s because of the NIMBY — not-in-my-backyard — opponents and a political class that caves into such opposition even when zoning allows high density housing adjacent to what is referred to as single family housing.

NIMBYism on steroids is the outgrowth of draconian regulations and reviews driven by the California Environmental Quality Act that was imposed by the state legislature. As it has evolved over the years, CEQA adds extensive risk for lenders due to how long they housing projects take and they fact every step of the way is ripe for exposure to litigation in the name of the group du jour that contends they are being denied social justice.

CEQA started out decades ago as a reasonable process but demands for redundant studies and court cases that have elevated the original intent of identifying impacts to one where mitigation of almost every conceivable impact is close to a virtual must to avoid litigation in many communities. It has driven the price and risks sky high of moving a project to the point where dirt can be turned.

Weiner has responded to opposition to his bill by offering an amendment addressing the issue of local control over zoning. He now would allow cities to come up with their own rules to build more housing as long as they did so by 2023 and whatever plans they come up with get the stamp of approval for two state agencies. If that sounds like a do-able time frame, Weiner might want to check how long it takes state agencies to process life and death issues such as levee upgrades.

Weiner also wants to solve the housing problem by imposing a state mandate that cities would have no choice but to allow housing up to five stories within a half mile of transit lines or employment centers.

The higher density near transit lines is getting all the play in the media because it severely impacts urban areas.

But given the difficulty in building high density housing to begin with, the provision in Senate Bill 50 that should give Californians the most pause is the provision that requires local jurisdictions to allow homeowners to renovate existing single family homes to allow the creation of three additional housing units.

That means a single family home can be converted — as long as it meets local design standards —into a fourplex overnight. 

This is highly likely to happen if SB 50 gets into place.

During the last recession, a number of McManisons — defined in Manteca of being between 3,600 and 4,900 square feet — were snapped up by investors, most from out-of-state and even in Canada. There were as many as 15 in the immediate neighborhood around Joshua Cowell School that ended up in the hands of investors.

If you watched the last 12 years unfold, you will know the real return in housing investment in Manteca and many other parts of California is in multiple family building rentals and not in the renting of single family homes. A lot of people couldn’t afford to buy foreclosed homes due to the down payment but they could handle rents even those that were escalating as their income stagnated or dropped.

It would have penciled our nicely to convert those 15 McMansions around Cowell School into either duplexes, triplexes or fourplexes.

Granted there are already a fair number of homes in Manteca shared by more than one family. Accelerating the trend may not create major neighborhood issues but it will have impacts on a community that are significant. Given units under such a conversion would escape school mitigation fees based in square footage, you could theoretically triple the number of kids in the attendance area of an elementary school. It likely wouldn’t come close to that but it is possible.

While there be even more cars in neighborhoods you could argue being able to effectively quadruple density — converting one unit into four by adding up to three more living units — you make more use of municipal resources.

The drawback is obvious. Developments over the years were designed for five living units per acre and not 20. That’s not saying it won’t work, it’s just that you are entering an entire new world where everything from calculated fire response time to adequate park space within walking distance goes into a tailspin.

How any of this addresses the basic issue of the high cost of building in California or even the hardcore homeless problem is really debatable.

One thing for sure is that we would be going down the slippery slope where the five people we elect to run the city will become mere figureheads to government by bureaucratic edict based on grandiose one-size-fits-all municipal governance for the state’s 482 cities originating from Sacramento.