By DAVE SCHWAB
The contention that Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) will alleviate the housing affordability crisis is disputed by opponents who argue pending legislation to make them easier to build will lead instead to unwanted densification and degradation in single-family neighborhoods.
State Sen. Pro Tem Toni Atkins and San Diego Council members Joe LaCava from District 1 and Sean Elo-Rivera from District 9 claimed at a July 29 Zoom Webinar that ADUs are one viable way to accommodate growth.
Otherwise known as granny flats, companion units, cottages, or casitas, ADUs are defined as a second rentable unit that a homeowner can build on their lot.
Two pending state bills, SB 9 by Senate Leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), and SB 10 by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), seek to streamline the statewide approval process for ADUs.
SB 9, the California Housing Opportunity and More Efficiency (HOME) Act, would allow no more than four units on what is currently a single-family parcel. Because of the concern that institutional investors would be motivated to buy up parcels with single-family homes and turn them into more lucrative four-unit condos or apartments, recent amendments to SB 9 make that more difficult by requiring restrictions such as owner-occupancy rules. Other amendments allow local jurisdictions to veto projects that endanger public health and safety.
SB 10 creates a voluntary, streamlined process for cities to upzone to provide missing middle multi-unit housing. It allows cities to choose to zone for up to 10 units per parcel, making it possible for cities to build significantly more housing.
“This (housing) crisis is the result of a century of poor urban planning, a century of giving our communities over to the construction industry, and a century of growth for the sake of growth,” contended Shain Haug, president of the Allied Gardens-Grantville Community Council. “Is it fair that those of us who have chosen single-family residential communities must now bear the burden of the correction of those errors? There are better ways than encouragement of ADUs in our neighborhoods and the proposals of Senate Bills 9 and 10.”
Kurt Katona, a contractor, concurred with Haug’s view that ADUs are not single-family friendly.
“We as homeowners purchased homes to live in an area that had tolerable space between properties, sufficient parking and an infrastructure that was designed to properly handle the needs — sewer, water, electricity, roads, etc.— of that population,” Katona said. “Our neighborhoods are already losing their aesthetic value with unsightly solar panels on roofs, trailers in front yards, etc., let alone the tasteless design that most of these buildings will have.”
There are at least two groups actively opposing state legislation seeking to make it easier to build ADUs in single-family neighborhoods.
Livable California is a nonprofit advocating for empowerment of local governments to foster equitable, livable communities and truly affordable housing. The group endorses the “Californians for Community Planning Initiative, communitiesforchoice.org.
That initiative seeks to: Support housing as a basic right; fight for truly affordable housing; assure self-determination of local government; preserve quality of life in communities; achieve smart and balanced growth; and protect home ownership.
Another group, Neighbors For a Better San Diego (NFABSD), recently released a white paper analysis of San Diego’s ADU affordability incentives, which concluded that “ADUs won’t provide affordable housing. San Diego’s ADU affordability incentives miss the mark on affordable housing, primarily because so-called ‘affordable’ rent levels are comparable to market rates. Further, returns on investment to developers are particularly biased against building the two-plus bedroom units that are needed by low- and middle-income families, contrary to the city’s inclusionary housing goals.” The full report is at www.bit.ly/3zTzZbw.
Speaking for the El Cerrito Community Council (ECCC), Laura Riebau noted the council recently voted 22 to 4 to support the NFABSD proposal to limit ADU development to that currently allowed by the state.
“Most discussion was about keeping the integrity of our single-family residential neighborhoods and that adding the dense development without increasing infrastructure requirements for the specific owner/developer (sewer, water, electric) will overload current infrastructure forcing utility prices to increase for all residents,” Riebau said. “Many voiced that until our ‘transit corridors’ are more like what SANDAG’s (regional transportation planning agency’s) plan is for them in 2050,that we will need parking requirements for ADU’s and other corridor development because people will be driving cars.”
Added Riebau, “NFABSD is not requesting a blanket moratorium on ADUs. It is only requesting a moratorium on ADUs that exceed the state regulation until the matter can go through the review process it should have gone through in the first place, and a proper San Diego City Council vote. The ADU amendment somehow got placed on the city council consent agenda without proper vetting and review. Even the City Planning Commission has stated it was not aware of the scope of the amendment and thought it was the same as the state’s.”
ECCC’s June newsletter contends that the city council’s October 2020 vote loosening restrictions on building ADUs will “allow decimation of single residential zoning and open the floodgates for two- or three-story backyard apartment buildings. Parking requirements are eliminated and fees waived for developers (up to $12,000 per unit) for rental units/ADUs on single residential lots. This leaves resident taxpayers holding the bag for needed infrastructure to support high density in single residential-zoned neighborhoods.”
The newsletter goes on to argue that new rules for ADUs are “major rezoning being masqueraded as minor modifications. When changes are large, they should follow the same legal procedures as actual rezoning. Studies confirm that such state-ordered upzoning encourages speculation and drives up land costs. That pushes housing costs up even higher, not lower. We have more than enough underutilized land on our main transit boulevards to meet our housing needs. We must not destroy our single-family neighborhoods and price out first-time homebuyers.”
Concluded the ECCC newsletter: “NFABSD is urging all of us to not let San Diego’s mayor and city council hand over our single-family residential neighborhoods to corporate ownership and to oppose these destructive changes and demand that the city place a moratorium on this neighborhood-killing policy.”
— Reach contributing editor Dave Schwab at firstname.lastname@example.org.