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Housing

The Upzoning Wave Finally Catches Up to California

To boost housing, cities like Berkeley and Sacramento are striking down single-family zoning laws and encouraging more dense development, joining a nationwide trend. 

An apartment building in Berkeley, California. Local lawmakers have moved to make it easier to build multi-family housing in the costly city, where single-family zoning laws dominate. 

An apartment building in Berkeley, California. Local lawmakers have moved to make it easier to build multi-family housing in the costly city, where single-family zoning laws dominate. 

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America

It was a small step, with huge symbolic significance: On Tuesday night, the city council of Berkeley, California, unanimously approved a resolution calling for the end of exclusionary zoning by 2022, kicking off a lengthy process to reform the city’s general plan with the aim to eliminate widespread bans on apartments and multi-unit residences. 

The goal is to reduce housing costs as well as to address the racist roots of laws that restrict development to single-family homes, said Lori Droste, the city council member who authored the resolution, which is a statement of intent, not a policy change. “It would have been really surprising if people voted against an attempt to end a vestige of past discrimination,” she said, pointing to the history of redlining and racially exclusionary covenants that underpin zoning codes to this day.