Councilmember Matthew Hudes didn’t quite get the version of a temporary Senate Bill 9 ordinance he would’ve liked to have seen—so he was the single “no” vote against the one passed by Council Tuesday night. He said it didn’t go far enough to ensure units under the new State housing law would be affordable. But he thanked his fellow elected officials for working together to move the needle forward on the consequential legislation that allows many single-family lots to be subdivided with minimal review.

To be sure, Hudes predicted, the Sacramento-imposed affordability agenda spells transformation to the “character” of Los Gatos—one that some residents will find “discomfort” with.

“In order to make that type of change, and to endure that kind of challenge, I think there needs to be something in it for the Town as well,” he said after Vice Mayor Maria Ristow’s motion succeeded. “I look to affordable housing to be the other side of that ledger.”

SB9, which took effect on Jan. 1, paves the way for homeowners to be able to easily cut a single lot in two—and put two homes on each.

Several Council members disclosed that they’d been lobbied by Tony Jeans, the owner of THIS Design & Development, who also advocated for changes to the SB9 urgency ordinance the Town was considering updating during the meeting.

He asked Council to tweak their SB9 approach so owners would be forced to build just the first of two units on one property to a size of no more than 1,200 square feet. After that they should be allowed to build the second residence to whatever size they want—provided it doesn’t exceed the overall maximum already in place for the property, he said during public comment period.

Jeans argued this would force developers to at least build one affordable unit, while potentially remaining on the property in a second, slightly-larger home.

After his time ran out, Mayor Rob Rennie asked him to expound a bit more on his square-footage concept.

“Staff suggested that the second dwelling be 1,200 (square) feet,” he said. “I’m suggesting that the first dwelling might want to be 1,200 (square) feet. That would require an affordable-by-design unit to be built on an SB9 lot, but allow the owner to build a larger unit for the main house.”

He gave the example of a 650-square-foot ADU and a large house.

Multiple homeowners spoke during public comment to say that 1,200 square feet isn’t big enough to accomplish their estate-planning goals.

Councilmember Marico Sayoc noted that 1,200 square feet was a size that corresponds to other non-SB9 Below Market Price planning requirements in Los Gatos, but liked the idea of just limiting the first SB9 property this way.

“It’s very difficult to develop an emergency ordinance on the fly,” she said.

Under this system, if Council doesn’t set a minimum size for the first—max 1,200 square foot—residence, could a developer theoretically build a tiny home and save the rest of the density for a larger second unit? Mayor Rennie asked staff.

Staff confirmed that indeed would be the case, however they noted there are building code requirements for livable units, such as it would have to incorporate a kitchen, for example.

“I’m a little concerned that we’re going down a path that will produce no affordable housing,” Hudes said, asking staff if the 1,200 square feet would factor in the basement area or not.

Staff replied that out of two lots on a property, one of the units gets to subtract the basement from the total square-footage calculation for the property

So, technically, a homeowner could build a 1,200 square foot unit with a 1,200 square foot basement and still save the rest of their total “floor area ratio” for a second residence under the SB9 process—neither of which would be very affordable to buy, Hudes argued.

Ristow said she doesn’t see SB9 as specifically targeting affordable housing.

“I’ve been thinking about this really a lot,” she said. “I know we have a slew of housing laws that have been coming through.”

She put Jeans’ square-footage suggestion in her motion, arguing it would give longtime residents a mechanism to remain in Los Gatos.

And she added a 10% density bump for the temporary SB9 ordinance, like with accessory dwelling units, but declined a friendly amendment to set a minimum density.

The urgency measure will last for 10 months and 15 days. Staff plans to develop a long-term ordinance over the summer and fall.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]