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September 17, 2019
Heriberto Aguirre was living with his wife and two daughters in his mother-in-law’s house in Oxnard when he decided the young family needed more space. At first, the family considered buying a new home, but realized the average home price near $600,000 was too expensive.
Aguirre instead decided on a different idea: an accessory dwelling unit. Sometimes referred to as a "granny flat," an ADU is a secondary residential unit that shares a lot with an existing, stand-alone, single-family home.
State legislation in 2017 made ADUs legal in all California cities. But in some cities, high permit fees and strict local regulations such as parking space and minimum lot size requirements have made ADU development difficult. This year, several bills could change that by streamlining the ADU application process and limiting fees.
A slate of bills passed this year aim to make the permit process easier for ADUs. Senate Bill 13 specifically addresses the issue of high permit fees and other barriers to ADU development, while Assembly Bill 881 removes owner-occupancy requirements. Assembly Bill 68 allows for two ADUs on the same property.
All three bills passed the Legislature and are heading to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has until Oct. 13 to sign or veto them.
Assembly member Phil Ting, who authored AB 68, says the bills were necessary due to strict regulations on ADUs by localities.
“Local cities have been erecting barriers that make it very difficult to build ADUs, they set very high, exorbitant fees, sometimes even larger than the cost of building a unit, or require very large lot sizes to build an ADU, or tie it up in the permitting process,” said Ting, a Democrat from San Francisco.
Opponents of the ADU legislation, including the League of California Cities, say the bills reduce local control and cities' ability to choose what regulations are best for their residents. Assembly member Jacqui Irwin, who represents a large portion of Ventura County, voted no on SB 13 and AB 68.
"In my previous role as a city council member, when we were putting in an ADU we'd look at how much impact it has on schools, water, infrastructure and parking," said Irwin. "I support local control, and thought it was appropriate that local jurisdictions decide on their own."
Irwin noted that the cities of Camarillo and Thousand Oaks submitted opposition letters on the legislation.
"ADUs definitely have the potential to be a great solution, but there's certain neighborhoods where they are not going to be appropriate and potentially infringe on the quality of life for your neighbors. The city working with residents and figuring out what's most appropriate is much better than the state deciding what the policies should be," Irwin said. "In spite of the fact that I didn't vote for this, I do hope cities see the benefits of allowing ADUs in some areas."
'Everybody is interested in ADUs right now'
Aguirre paid $2,000 for an application fee, but additional building fees bring the total fees for an ADU in Oxnard to about $11,000. Aguirre estimates the ADU, which he moved into two months ago, cost a total of $150,000.
Juan Tapia, an Oxnard-based developer, estimates that of the people who contact him to build an ADU, about 50 percent change their mind after learning the permit cost.
“Everybody is interested in ADUs right now, but when it comes to the cost of the permits they seem to back away,” Tapia said. “The permit process is definitely more difficult with ADUs than other projects I work on.”
Advocates say ADUs could play an important role in the state’s housing crisis, especially in areas where it has historically been difficult to get multifamily developments approved.
“In many California cities it is still illegal to build apartments because many areas cannot have multifamily buildings, but it is perfectly legal to build an ADU unit,” said Matthew Lewis, communications director for California Yes In My Backyard.
“ADUs allow homeowners to gain additional rental income, are popular with homeowners and can be built very quickly,” said Lewis. “When you combine all of those attributes it is a win-win, and when we get enough of these in the state they could provide a fair amount of housing.”
Legislation that became effective in January 2017 reduced regulations on ADUs and made outright bans on ADUs illegal. The legislation also limited cities’ review of ADUs to state standards in the absence of a compliant local ADU ordinance, sparking a flurry of ordinances across the state.
Some cities welcomed ADUs with open arms. In San Jose, officials recently launched “ADU Tuesdays,” which allow residents to get applications approved in just one 90-minute appointment. Other cities enacted high fees and other requirements, including maximum unit size and parking space requirements.
In some cities, ADU fees can be up to $50,000
Some developers and advocates say high fees are at odds with addressing the state’s housing crisis.
“On paper, cities say they want affordable housing, but in my opinion, some cities are extremely strict with ADUs and seem like they are trying to do everything possible to keep people from building ADUs,” said Frank Rogue, a developer who has worked on ADUs in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Rogue says his clients have paid as much as $18,000 in fees.
Oxnard has seen an increase in ADU applications since the 2017 legislation, according to Paul McClaren, associate planner for the city. In 2018, the city received 37 ADU applications, more than double the number of applications received in 2017.
According to McClaren, ADU applicants pay $2,000 to the planning department, which is based on the staff time needed to evaluate the application. An additional fee is then charged for the building permit. He estimates the total cost of the two fees is $10,000 to $11,000.
“I have heard that there are people who started down the path and then when they found out what the fees are they decided they couldn’t do it,” said McClaren, who hopes to address this by creating a brochure that clearly outlines the full cost of an ADU. “I want a brochure that transparently explains what the costs are. You shouldn’t get into it and start spending money only to find out it is not going to be feasible.”
Oxnard’s fees are slightly above the state average, according to a research paper for the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley. Author Deirre Pfeiffer researched how local policies encourage or discourage ADU production, and found the average fee for an ADU in California is $9,250. Pfeiffer found permit fees as high as $15,000 to $25,000 around the state, with some localities charging even more. San Luis Obispo reported a $50,000 fee, and Walnut Creek and Brentwood in Contra Costa County charged $40,000. High fees corresponded with fewer ADU applications; Pfeiffer found fees averaged $6,782 for cities receiving applications at least monthly, compared with $10,208 for cities receiving fewer than monthly applications.
“It is concerning to see communities that have high need for multigenerational housing and face economic challenges like high rent, and these places seem to be most resistant to formalizing ADUs,” Pfeiffer said.
Ting hopes the ADU bills will provide some relief for the state’s housing crisis, in a year that saw many housing supply bills fail.
“Most of our housing supply bills did not make it through this year, and those that did make it through were these ADU bills. [AB 68] is a bill that will actually help build more housing,” said Ting.
Advocates say allowing two ADUs is a dramatic shift that could produce more housing. An area currently zoned for single-family housing could become triplex housing, if homeowners were to add two ADUs to their property.
“Under AB 68, California will have achieved the de facto triplex zoning across the state,” said Lewis. “This permitted-use-by right across the state allows you to build three units on your property.”
Legislators hope these bills will make it easier for individuals like Aguirre to build ADUs. Aguirre says the hardest part of the ADU process was the permitting, which took a year. Building the unit took just two months.
Erin Rode covers housing, real estate and development for The Star. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-437-0312.
VENTURA COUNTY STAR
Amanda Covarrubias and Kathleen Wilson, Ventura
Published 4:01 p.m. PT March 7, 2017 | Updated 9:19 a.m. PT March 8, 2017
They’re called granny flats, accessory dwelling units and mother-in-law apartments. But whatever the label, they’re considered one small answer to the state’s housing crisis, and they could soon pop up in a neighborhood near you.
Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business
County expands housing opportunities through new granny flat ordinance - By Sean Paroski
Ventura County’s ongoing housing shortage continues to be a significant drag on the local economy. Multiple local economists such as Mark Schniepp from the California Economic Forecast in Santa Barbara and Matthew Fienup from CLU have pointed to the lack of housing as one of the main reasons for Ventura County’s stagnant economic growth.
Just this past month, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis released a report showing that Ventura County’s economy shrank by 2.7% in 2016. This is in direct contrast with California’s growth of 2.9% that same year.
Ventura County is thus an extreme example of an affordable housing problem that has already attracted statewide attention. The state Legislature has grown so concerned about the issue that last year they passed a series of laws requiring counties and cities to ease restrictions on certain types of affordable housing called Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).
ADUs, commonly called “granny flats,” are separate dwelling units that can be created by transforming space in an existing residence, converting a garage, constructing an attachment or by building a stand-alone unit. The state law forced local governments to allow the construction of granny flats with certain exceptions and prevented them from requiring onerous parking requirements for their use.
From: “Ward, David” <email@example.com>
Date: Apr 14, 2017 3:41 PM
Subject: City of Ventura Accessory Dwelling Unit – Update No. 1
You are receiving this email because you have expressed an interest in the City’s development of the permanent Accessory Dwelling Unit “ADU” Ordinance in Ventura. I anticipate a total of 4 updates or public hearing notices during the next 4-6 month process to adoption.
Public Outreach through the various community councils concluded during the first part of March. Lots of questions about different ADU scenarios as might apply to individual lots, how does building code requirements work for an interior “Junior ADU” versus a regular attached or detached ADU, and questions about the fees. The greatest feedback related to the owner-occupy operational provision with about a 60/40 split of folks opposed vs supportive of the rule. Staff anticipates this operational standard will be brought forward to allow the Planning Commission to consider it along with public comments both pro and con so that the Planning Commission can provide the City Council their technical recommendation as is their role in advising on any zoning ordinance.
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