Adopt the California Home Act (SB 9) for more beautiful neighborhoods
We love our neighborhood. Nestled between the university campus and the Berkeley Hills, the Northside is bursting with charm and character. It is a place where the established and the next generation come together, where teachers cross paths with students.
The architectural diversity of our neighborhood contributes to its eclectic character: duplexes, triplexes, apartment buildings and single-family houses coexist among the well-watered lawns of religious institutions. Houses built before the rise of automobile culture, whose brands would eventually dominate the landscapes of American cities everywhere. While we don’t know every neighbor by name, there is a common understanding that we are stewards of a special shared space that belongs to all who reside here.
This special space contains important lessons for all of California. Our state is undeniably in the midst of a housing crisis and has had underbuilt housing for decades, but most residents don’t want to see skyscrapers on every corner. Instead, a critical way forward to alleviating this shortage can be found right here in the Northside. Senate Bill 9, which is currently making its way into our state legislature, would make charming neighborhoods like ours legal statewide. For places where only single-family homes are currently permitted, this would divide the lots in half with a duplex on each lot, effectively allowing quadruple. It would not allow the construction of more than four units on a piece of land.
Originally subdivided by George Phelps in 1895, Northside was the first neighborhood developed north of the Berkeley campus. In September 1923, the neighborhood was completely destroyed by a large fire originating in Wildcat Canyon. Fueled by strong northeast winds that we are familiar with today, the fire quickly spread across the hill and descended into the development of Berkeley. More than 500 homes have been lost.
As the Northside was rebuilt, a more diverse and fire-resistant neighborhood arose from the ashes of what had burned. Stucco apartment buildings and multi-family residences replaced the brown shingled houses that stood before, while clay tiles replaced split-shingle roofs accused of aggravating the blaze. Greek fraternities and sororities have been established as well as hotels, seminars and the picturesque Norman village.
While no single bill will solve the housing crisis on its own, SB 9 will be a powerful tool in making our neighborhoods work for more people. It is true that new duplexes and triplexes being built in Berkeley may not be affordable for low-income families, which is why legislation to increase housing subsidies will also be needed. But it cannot be denied that allowing more housing choices will bring greater diversity in income levels to our neighborhoods.
Fortunately, there are protections built into SB 9 to avoid harming communities. There can be no development where a tenant has lived during the previous three years. The bill would not apply to hazardous or conservation areas, thus encouraging sustainable development. Individual buildings with more than two dwellings or more than four dwellings on the same site are not authorized. It would also not apply to rural or historic areas.
In fact, Berkeley recently passed a symbolic resolution to end single-family zoning, which will begin the process of approving multi-family dwellings (but not apartments) in every neighborhood in Berkeley. SB9 will not prejudge these local zoning improvements, but will instead apply only to other California communities where single-family zoning is still in effect.
Today, as you stroll down Virginia or Arch Street south of Euclid, it’s clear that Northside is one of the most architecturally diverse neighborhoods in Berkeley. Numerous duplexes and triplexes, examples of Spanish Colonial Revival and Elizabethan cob, blend seamlessly with apartment buildings and single-family homes elsewhere in the block, while each building displays its own unique charm. The housing supply naturally attracts a diverse population: university students, young families, seniors and tenants of all ages.
We love living in the Northside and think it’s time for California to legalize neighborhoods that work for all kinds of people statewide. This is why we believe in the success of SB 9.