SAN MARCOS — The San Marcos City Council has voted to support a ballot initiative that asserts the authority of local municipalities and city governments over state law in matters of land use and zoning regulations.
In a 3-2 vote at Tuesday night’s meeting, the council adopted a resolution that formally endorses the “Brand-Huang-Mendoza Tripartisan Land Use Initiative” — an initiative that if passed, would amend California’s constitution to allow local jurisdictions to override state housing laws. Backers of the proposal are currently pushing to get the initiative on the ballot as a state proposition for the 2022 election.
Mayor Rebecca Jones, Councilman Ed Musgrove and Councilwoman Sharon Jenkins voted in favor of the resolution, while Councilman Randy Walton and Councilwoman María Nuñez voted against it.
Jones said adopting the resolution is an affirmation of the idea that local governments, rather than state legislators, ought to be in charge of determining the character of their communities through land use and zoning laws.
“This is about preserving the uniqueness of our community…the initiative is an effort to take back our power in keeping our communities special, in keeping them the way that they were intended. The government has no business in playing a role in how we grow and legislate our communities,” Jones said.
The text of the Brand-Huang-Mendoza proposal stipulates that “city and county land-use and zoning laws (including local housing laws) override all conflicting state laws, except in certain circumstances related to three areas of statewide concern: (1) the California Coastal Act of 1976; (2) siting of power plants; or (3) development of water, communication, or transportation infrastructure projects.”
Furthermore, the law would “prevent state legislature and local legislative bodies from passing laws invalidating voter-approved local land-use or zoning initiatives” as well as “[prohibiting the] state from changing, granting, or denying funding to local governments based on their implementation of this measure.”
The initiative is in part aimed as a rebuke of Senate Bills 9 and 10, signed into law in September by Governor Gavin Newsom. SB 9 allows for homeowners to build a second unit on their lot or split their property and develop up to a total of eight market-rate units (two duplexes and four ADUs) on lots previously zoned for single-family residences. SB 10 permits cities to adopt ordinances allowing developers to build up to 10 livable units on virtually any residential lot.
Critics of the bills argue that the laws will not only exacerbate the cost of housing in California but will also lead to increased gentrification in suburban communities and weaken the ability of middle-class families to build wealth through homeownership.
In addition to these concerns, Jones argued that such legislation robs local municipalities of their autonomy by imposing sweeping state standards on every city and county regardless of the unique needs and characteristics of individual communities.
“The state continues to pass legislation that takes a one-size-fits-all, broad-brush approach, and that doesn’t work for most communities, in fact, it hinders us from keeping the uniqueness of our community in ways that are important to us,” Jones said. “Some legislator who lives up in northern California has no idea what matters to San Marcos and what makes this community special, so we’re going to take back our power and not let you dictate what we should be doing locally.”
Walton said that he voted against the resolution both because the initiative has not yet been formalized on the ballot and because he feels as though there are ambiguities about how the proposal would play out legally if state and local statutes were to conflict.
The measure would have to receive 1 million signatures to qualify for the ballot next November.
“I don’t really have an opinion yet on the initiative because it’s brand new, but my contention is that to ask the city to take a position on something that hasn’t even qualified for the ballot yet is premature,” Walton said.
Walton also criticized the resolution itself, which was sponsored by Jones, calling it overly broad and cryptic.
“The resolution was ambiguous and made statements that didn’t have evidentiary support…it’s bad form for the city to take a position on something that isn’t even well-formed yet,” Walton said. “It’s an example of the mayor being political instead of advancing real policy.”
Even if the initiative makes the ballot and is passed, Walton said that he thinks that the measure as it stands now would likely lead to litigation in courts because it pits the authority of local governments against state lawmakers.
“The state has certain inherent powers that this law challenges. I’m fairly certain that the initiative would be challenged in the courts if it came to it,” Walton said, adding that he was personally not sure of how the initiative would play out in practice if a state and local statute conflicted.
“There are lots of state laws regarding land use that cities don’t like—does this mean that now de facto all of these state laws are nullified? What about voter initiatives? If the city passes a law preventing the construction of apartment buildings and there’s an initiative state voters approve that contradicts this ordinance, does the city statute prevail under all circumstances?”
Bill Brand, mayor of Redondo Beach and one of the initiative’s co-sponsors, said that any legal ambiguities over the proposal’s implementation would be removed once enacted because the initiative amends the state constitution.
“That’s exactly why we’re amending the constitution,” Brand said. “This has to be approved by the voters of California, and if we put this on the ballot and it passes, that’ll be the law. When it comes to the legality of any initiative there can always be litigation, but that’s the reason why we’re amending the constitution—to make it clear that the residents and voters of California want zoning and land use regulations decided at the local level and not by legislators from all over the state.”
In addition to Brand, the proposed ballot initiative is being co-sponsored by Yorba Linda Councilwoman Peggy Huang and Jovita Mendoza with the Brentwood City Council.