Three new state laws further hamstring cities in writing rules for accessory dwelling units, also known as ADUs, granny flats, or residential second units. Whatever you call them, as of the first of the year, cities must approve any ADU or Junior ADU that conforms to state rules. Goleta’s planning commissioners objected on Monday to their inability to define parts of an ADU law, but they pushed forward with a resolution that brings Goleta’s ordinance into conformity with the state rules. City Council will consider it on either an urgency — it would go into effect immediately — or regular track — it would take two sessions for a first and second reading before becoming city law — at a meeting on January 21.
California’s new rules speed up approval, shortening it to 60 days from the former 120-day requirement. It also removes the additional parking requirement for a garage conversion, increases maximum sizes, allows more than one ADU on a lot, and permits until 2025 the creation of ADUs on properties whose owner lives elsewhere. Short-term rentals are still prohibited. The new rules also require the city to allow ADUs on lots that hold multifamily dwelling — which Goleta had not permitted before — including as many as two detached ADUs on such lots, or those not within existing apartments.
Compliance means any studio or one-bedroom ADU may be up to 850 square feet. For two-bedrooms, the maximum is 1,000. Goleta had limited them to the smaller of 800 square feet or half the primary residence size. The setback, or distance from side and rear property lines, is four feet; the height limit is 16 feet. But, if the property is a corner lot, the setback increases to 20 feet at the main frontage and 10 feet at its secondary frontage — which was the only change permitted at the planning commissioners’ discretion. An ADU remains limited to 10 percent of a lot size, must be at least five feet apart from another, and must now look the same as the primary residence — to simplify design requirements. Deviations from landscape and screening requirements can be gained through the Design Review Board, which otherwise gets no say in ADU projects.
Goleta may no longer require a zoning permit for ADUs that conform to a number of new size and construction rules, including one that requires zoning exemption for one ADU at a multifamily dwelling. The state rule further allows up to 25 percent of the number of existing units as ADUs, in areas not used as living space — meaning boiler rooms, passageways, basements — as long as they comply with state building standards for dwellings. Building permits are required.
The only reasons an ADU can be denied are for inadequate sewer or water availability, or adverse impacts to traffic flow and public safety, according to the state. The preemptive rules are meant to address the state’s housing crisis by allowing new units at existing homes, but in themselves have created a crisis of sorts at municipalities across California and, as yet, no reduction in tent cities.