Recap of recent Discussion on ADU with State Senator Bob Wieckowski

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This is a recap of the discussion on ADU (Accessory Dwelling Units) with State Senator Bob Wieckowski on August 11th, 10 am - 12 noon at the New Vic Theater.

California Senate Bill No. 1069 came into effect on January 1, 2017.  This law encourages the creation of small, second dwelling units (“accessory dwelling units”, ADUs) in properties with single-family residences throughout the State of California.  Local jurisdictions statewide are currently in the process of writing zoning ordinances to comply with the state mandate. 
 
At the request of the Santa Barbara AIA (American Institute of Architects) and SBCA (Santa Barbara Contractor's Association) the bill’s author, California Senator Bob Wieckowski came to Santa Barbara to provide background on the legislation and its intent.  With him came Greg Nickless, Housing Policy Analyst with the State Housing & Community Development (HCD), the agency in charge of housing needs, planning and building standards.
 
The hall was packed with over 250 people: architects, planners, agency representatives, builders, developers, neighborhood activists but, most of all, an overwhelming number of homeowners.  Introducing Senator Wieckowski Architect Ellen Bildsten noted that the City of Santa Barbara approved a total of 16 ADUs between 2002 and 2016 but, in the seven months since SB 1069 became effective, the City received 124 applications.
 
Senator Wieckowski described the basic premise of his bill: California is in the midst of a severe housing crisis that threatens the economy of the state, exacerbated by an overzealous regulatory system that deprives homeowners of the ability to fully develop their property. SB 1069 is designed to protect a homeowner’s right to an accessory unit (“granny flat”) that has been restricted over the years by an expanding plethora of zoning requirements coupled with disproportionately high utility charges and development fees.  
 
The previous ADU state ordinance enacted in 2002 was eviscerated by the workings of “clever” local agencies that crafted ordinances with unsurmountable requirements and fees designed to kill their implementation.  Highest in this regard are parking requirements which SB 1069 greatly reduces or eliminates altogether. Ditto with the conversion of garages and other accessory structures that are “legal, non-conforming” because they encroach into setbacks. Gone are restrictions on parcel size, too. But perhaps the most sensitive issue to this audience is the classification of ADU permits as “ministerial” (no public hearing required) as opposed to “discretionary” (Single Family Design Review, Landmarks Commission, environmental analysis).
 
According to Wieckowski, ADUs are not going to resolve the housing crisis by themselves but they will be one important part of the solution.  There are eight million single family dwellings in California; if 5% of them take advantage of this program, it would create 400,000 new housing units.  This will require no new infrastructure and, given the limited size of these units, will lead to a substantial supply of affordable (or less expensive) housing with no government subsidies.
 
Several members of the audience expressed concern about the removal of design review, especially for historic structures; removal of parking requirements; affordability of ADUs; and potential to convert them to vacation rentals.  The Senator was strikingly brief, direct and unequivocal with his answers:
 
- Design review:  “Trust the homeowners: They are not going to put up schlock next to their own home.  People who buy a historic home would want to protect it. Cities should be proactive and develop design guidelines that can be applied in a ministerial process. They should have designs available and check boxes to help guide the desired outcome.”
 
- Not enough parking: “I don’t care! Parking is not a state priority. The location of ADUs in built-up areas minimizes car use. You need to be creative and figure out solutions.”
 
- Affordability: “ADUs are small and their sheer numbers will soften the vacancy rate and balance the market –to a certain degree. And this will require no government funds!”
 
- Conversion to vacation rentals: “Enforcement is a local responsibility, not the State’s.”
 
The majority of speakers expressed their frustration with required utility hook ups and fees; special district and development impact fees; long delays in the approval process; homeowners’ associations restrictions; and limitations on high fire, coastal and multi-family zones.  
 
- Utility and Special District fees: “They need to be proportional to the structure. Fees cannot be levied on ADUs as a primary residence because they are accessory. Fees for hooking up to an existing septic system are not allowed.” (This was echoed by the HCD representative.)
 
- Approval delays:  “The law requires an approval within 120 days; that is the timeline for the whole approval process, not 120 days for the Planning Department, another 120 days for the Building Department, and another 120 days for whatever comes next. On the 121st day, take the permit request to court.”
 
- Homeowners Associations restrictions: “That is so sad! But the law does not apply to HOAs.”
 
- High Fire Zones:  A community like Montecito cannot restrict ADUs completely because it is within a high fire zone. There needs to be a rationale documenting the reason for the restriction.
 
- Coastal Zones:  HCD is working on the interpretation and legalities of the exclusion. This may need an amendment to the law.
 
- Existing single family residences in multi-family zones:  The proposal by the City of Santa Barbara to limit ADUs to single family and duplex zoned properties ONLY is not what SB 1069 dictates. An existing, legal, single family residence in any zone qualifies for an ADU.
 
Greg Nickless indicated that HCD has received hundreds of inquiries and it will be updating its December, 2016 memorandum with additional interpretations of the ordinance.  Senator Wieckowski closed the meeting with a simple advice that sounded almost like a warning to local authorities writing their ADU ordinances:  “Embrace the law! What is a reasonable ordinance? If you do not do something that works, Sacramento will act again.”

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