State vs. Local Building Rules

State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and State Assemblymember Das Williams are taking a wait-and-see approach to a couple of bills designed to ease local regulatory restrictions holding up the development of residential second units, also known as “granny flats,” to help ease the state’s crushing housing burden. Both state legislators released statements expressing general support for that stated goal but also deference to local planning guidelines and local controls. In the past 10 years, the city of Santa Barbara has issued only seven permits for granny units, with another two possibly on the way.

The way city rules and regulations are currently structured, city planning Czar George Buell acknowledged, not many second-unit applications can or will qualify. In recent discussions with the Planning Commission, he said concern was raised over any one-size-fits-all planning approach that Sacramento might hatch. Some neighborhoods are more accommodating of second units than others, he noted. But to craft locally sensitive rules, he estimated, could take three to five years. Whether that timeline will pass muster with politicians in Sacramento remains to be seen.

The Santa Barbara City Council went on record against a related measure that would all but strip local communities of regulatory oversight on residential developments in which 20 percent or more of the units are deemed affordable. That measure, however, appears doomed for the time being, having aroused opposition from both the environmental community and the labor unions.

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