A Guide to Ending Single-Family Zoning

Lessons from 39 Years of ADU Legislation

Californians don’t have time to deal with the housing shortage and high housing costs linked to the prevalence of single-family zoning. If single-family properties are going to be a source of housing growth for duplexes, triplexes, or fourplexes, developers and property owners will face very similar issues as aspiring ADU builders have over the last four decades. In order to move forward with the reforms of single-family housing policies we are seeing gain momentum around the country, we need to identify and learn from successful models.

In this paper, we use the example of California’s 39-year effort to allow for accessory dwelling units statewide as a model to identify the vital components of successful zoning reforms. We look at the history and foundations of single-family zoning to show how these areas are defined not just by the form of the buildings, but also by the policies of exclusion. We retrace the steps taken over the decades to allow for an additional home to be developed in California’s single-family neighborhoods. In conclusion, we show how in order to achieve success, zoning reform efforts must look beyond just what is allowed to be built and take a comprehensive approach to reform fees, occupancy restrictions, and approval processes, while providing oversight to ensure local compliance.

When considering reforms we should try to remove all of these barriers upfront, rather than spending another half-century getting it right. CaRLA presents this guide to local and state policy makers to ensure the success of single-family zoning reform with the following recommendations:

  • Limit local discretion
  • Guarantee buildable area for every lot
  • Create a permitting process that is clear, simple, and fast
  • Mandate only objective development standards
  • Don’t forget about all of the fees
  • Eliminate or limit parking requirements
  • Monitor and enforce local compliance
  • Don’t worry about who lives in the new housing


Click below to Download the Guide

Author: Dylan Casey
Collaborators: Victoria Fierce, Greg Magofña
Layout and Photos: Greg Magofña
Released: May 2021

© California Renters Legal Adovcacy and Education Fund, 2021