Land Use and Zoning in Kensington

Our community is almost completely zoned for single family homes. As the job hubs particularly San Francisco and Silicon Valley continue to grow, there is significant pressure on East Bay communities to increase density and build more housing. Contra Costa County is currently updating its General Plan which guides development. The County is currently proposing to “up zone” most of the residential parcels in Kensington to allow two housing units plus an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on every parcel in Kensington. The proposal as drafted would zone most of Kensington to Residential Medium zoning designation of 7-17 units per acre (ADUs are not counted in this figure). Currently the same area is zoned 5.-7.2 units per acre (although the County Planning Department believes current density is 7-10 units per acre).

The County is undertaking this planning effort through a public planning process called Envision 2040. They plan to complete this by next year. It is useful to envision Kensington with twice as many units, cars, children going to Hilltop to start understanding the impact that this proposed zoning would have on Kensington. In addition to the County’s zoning proposal, there are legislative bills waiting to be heard that would require all residential zones to allow duplex construction under a ministerial building approval. This could essentially limit any neighbor from contesting a negative impact to their property, such as loss of sun light or view.

KPOA is concerned about the safety of all residents due to the high wildfire danger and earthquake danger in our community. Further development will lead to disastrous results as people try to escape. Our Fire Chief has already told us that homes are our biggest fuel problem for controlling wildfires, with homes being even closer together, this will add more fuel for flames to leap between houses in a matter of minutes. We do not think it is wise to add further densification in most areas of Kensington, the fire and earthquake risk is too high and the streets are too narrow to accommodate the vehicles that will clog the roadway.

The draft maps and the proposed General Plan polices for Kensington are found here.

It is not too late to provide your thoughts to the County.


County Supervisor John Gioia:

Principal Planner: [email protected]

Envision 2040 County General Plan Update

April 14, 2021

The Honorable Toni Atkins
President pro Tempore, California State Senate State Capitol Building, Room 205
Sacramento, CA 95814

RE: SB 9 (Atkins) Increased Density in Single-Family Zones Oppose Unless Amended (As Introduced 12/7/2020)

Dear Senate President Pro Tempore Atkins,

The Kensington Property Owners Association writes to express an Oppose Unless Amended position on your SB 9, which would require a local government ministerial approval of housing developments containing two residential units in single-family residential zones. Additionally, this measure would require ministerial approval of urban lot splits.

SB 9 as currently drafted would not create housing construction in a manner that supports affordability, local flexibility, decision-making, and community input. State driven ministerial or by-right housing approval processes fail to recognize the extensive public engagement associated with developing and adopting zoning ordinances and housing. In unincorporated Kensington (Contra Costa Co.), we have an overlay zoning ordinance to protect views, sunlight and privacy as well as floor area ratios (FAR) to avoid over development of large houses on small lots. The majority of lots here are less than 4,000 sq ft. It is difficult to apply “objective” standards, to views, sunlight and privacy. These building impacts to neighborhoods would be virtually impossible under a ministerial approval process that only considered “objective standards”, as proposed by SB 9. Our community in unincorporated Contra Costa County is one of the densest single family zones in the East Bay with up to 10 houses per acre. We are in Calfire’s Very High Fire Hazard Zone. Our streets are narrow and substandard without parking on both sides. Our emergency vehicles have to maneuver carefully. Adding additional development here in the manner proposed by SB 9 would be reckless and irresponsible. Insurance policies are already becoming a difficult to obtain.

Housing affordability and homelessness are among the most critical issues facing California cities. Yet, proposals such as SB 9 that rely on real estate interests and developers or individual homeowners, are failing to create affordable units in high cost areas such as the Bay Area. This type of housing requires subsidy needs to be built in areas that have the infrastructure and transportation to support larger affordable developments.

The Kensington Property Owners Association requests the following amendments in order to address our concerns:

  1. Prohibit developers from using SB9 in very high fire hazard severity zones;
  2. Allow counties to determine a range of lot sizes suitable for SB9 development projects;
  3. Allow local governments to take into account local conditions such as hillsides, lot dimensions, natural hazards, available infrastructure, street safety, parking, etc. when approving or denying housing project applications;
  4. Eliminate the ministerial requirements on local government planning agencies;
  5. Prohibit duplex units to be used as short term rentals;
  6. Allow local governments to continue to determine parking standards ; and
  7. Ensure large-scale investors and builders do not exploit SB9 provisions.

The Kensington Community is committed to being part of the solution to the housing shortfall. Many families here rent rooms or ADUs to U.C. Berkeley students and other individuals. Thank you for considering the above amendments.

Rob Firmin, President