2/18/18: Bring on the Granny Flats!

February 18, 2018

Good news! I’m excited to tell you about major changes to the city’s accessory dwelling unit policy to make creation and permitting of granny flats much easier.
Updating our city’s granny flat policy has been one of my top priorities in office so I’m tremendously proud of the entire team that helped us accomplish these important changes, and grateful to the City Council for their unanimous support.

As you know, Encinitas faces a mighty hurdle in creating more affordable housing in our city. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) can be a really important part of the solution. Here’s why:

  • Our existing neighborhoods offer opportunities to scatter housing instead of concentrating it. Accessory units can be designed to maintain the community character that surrounds them. We have a lot of single family homes — about 20,000 out of our 25,000 total housing units. The other 5,000 housing units are apartments and mobile homes. The suburban nature of our city makes granny flats a form of housing that is easy to absorb.
  • Granny flats help extended families be near one another while maintaining privacy, especially benefiting multi-generational families that can include seniors, students, the disabled, and in-home healthcare providers.
  • Allowing more granny flats helps current residents of Encinitas. The units provide income to homeowners, give flexibility as families evolve, and allow people to age in place when they retire and need an income.

Here’s the gist of our new Encinitas ordinance, which relies on changes in state law in 2016 and 2017:
Encinitas property owners can now have up to one accessory unit as large as 1200 square feet, which is either attached or detached, plus one junior accessory unit on their property, as long as the accessory unit is smaller than the primary residence. A junior accessory unit is essentially a room of an existing house that is walled off, can include an internal door and has an efficiency kitchen. Per state law, the junior accessory unit is limited to 500 square feet and includes a cooking facility with appliances that don’t require electric service greater than 120 volts, or natural or propane gas.
Because the granny flats are designed to provide housing, not serve the tourist market, they have to be rented for at least 30 days, which effectively prohibits their use as vacation rentals.

This chart shows that we’ve made progress in the number of new accessory units being built in the last few years, but I believe there’s interest and demand for many more.
Additionally, the accessory unit setback requirements are reduced to five feet from the side and rear property line, which is consistent with our regulations for structures such as sheds. We aren’t requiring the accommodation of any new parking if the property is within 500 feet of a transit stop, including a bus stop. And for lots under 10,000 square feet, there’s an additional five percent bonus on the amount of the lot that can be covered and 10 percent for maximum floor area ratio.
We decided to waive all city fees — usually about $3,000 — for the development of accessory units, which is sending a very strong message about our interest in developing this housing type. The city is also developing a “permit ready” program whereby we provide plans for already approved units.
To comply with California housing laws, we need to be laser-focused on getting official credit with the state for every housing unit built in Encinitas. So I presented the City Council with the draft of a questionnaire for homeowners who build granny flats, explaining the changes in our policies and asking them the amount of rent they intend to charge for their accessory unit.
If we don’t ask residents the right questions to elicit the information we need to provide to the state, then we won’t get that official housing credit. It’s crucial to capture and account for all the affordable housing that we’re already providing in Encinitas.
My hunch is that many people rent their units at below-market rate, which means those rentals are more likely to qualify in the “affordable housing” category. Many residents are not renting as a business that is intending to maximize every last dollar. They want some income but they also want a neighborly friend or family member as a tenant, or they have other circumstances. Some people allow family members to live there for free.
In related news, a statewide bill that would allow cities to use the building code in effect in the year the unit was constructed in order to bring unpermitted units up to code was introduced last week by our state Senator Pat Bates. Last year, the bill was put on a two-year track to further refine the details. Here’s a link to the bill’s text. It’s estimated that Encinitas has at least 1,000 unpermitted accessory units, many of them pre-dating our 1986 incorporation.

If you’d like more information about the changes to state law, here’s a great Frequently Asked Questions pamphlet from the state housing agency that’s very informative. Here’s the Coast News story about the city’s ordinance changes.If you have any questions about a unit that you may like to build, please email Geoff Plagemann in the city’s development services department at [email protected].
This excerpt from a state housing source sums it up nicely: “ADUs are an affordable type of home to construct in California because they do not require paying for land, major new infrastructure, structured parking, or elevators. ADUs are built with cost-effective one- or-two story wood frame construction, which is significantly less costly than homes in new multifamily infill buildings. ADUs can provide as much living space as the new apartments and condominiums being built in new infill buildings and serve very well for couples, small families, friends, young people, and seniors.”
I recently spoke at a Zero Waste Symposium sponsored by Zero Waste San Diego called “The Power of Political Will,” about how anything is possible if we want it. When we look around at our world, we realize that we’ve created and are responsible for our entire human-made environment. There’s a complex relationship between what citizens want and what policy makers enact. With will, we can achieve any goal.
A short walk to the park, and Encinitas leads the way
The National Recreation and Park Association is committed to the idea that everyone should be able to “walk to a great park within 10 minutes.” About 150 mayors have agreed, and Encinitas is the only city in San Diego County that has signed on. Here’s the San Diego Union-Tribune story.
Highlights from the City Council meeting
We approved the Rail Corridor Vision Study, an ongoing effort for more than a year with representatives from most of the major community stakeholder groups. The City Council now needs to implement the plan for quiet zones, more crossings and other improvements through appropriation of money and dedication of staff time to get regulatory approvals.
We spent a long time talking about the city’s “inclusionary ordinance,” which is the percentage of affordable housing required of developers who put in ten or more homes. This has been a discussion topic for multiple years. The ultimate conclusion was to take no immediate action and schedule a workshop. I’m grateful that Council members Tony Kranz and Mark Muir agreed to organize it.
Other news
o In an unfortunate development, my City Council colleague, Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca, and his husband Matt Bosse, were discouraged from applying to Santa Fe Christian for their son next year because their family includes two fathers. The Mosca family weekly attends St. Andrews Episcopal Church and consider their faith an important part of their lives. Apparently this exclusion is legal. Here’s the Coast News story, which details the situation.
o Work Begins on Bike Lanes under the freeway at Santa Fe Drive and Encinitas Blvd.
o Ferret Fan Finds Few Friends Among Encinitas Leaders
City commissioner selections
This week during the City Council’s annual City Commissioner recruitment, we heard testimony from residents wanting to serve on six city commissions: Planning, Arts, Environment, Parks, Senior and Traffic. There were an impressive 40 applicants for the commissions.
We selected Jody Hubbard to be the new Cardiff Planning Commissioner and Kevin Doyle to be reappointed as the Old Encinitas representative. At the next City Council meeting, we’ll appoint the other commissioners.
The sheer number of generous, engaged citizens wanting to serve speaks volumes about the vibrancy of our local democracy. Every year we’re blessed with dozens of qualified applicants, and it always pains me to turn away motivated people. If you weren’t chosen this year, I’d seriously encourage you to try again next year.
Speaking of democracy, I hope you and your family are enjoying a splendid Presidents’ Day weekend!
In service,

It was a real treat to say a few words at the Leichtag Foundation for their “birthday party for trees,” otherwise called a “Tu B’Shvat Food Forest Festival,” where they invited the community to help them plant fruit trees. Remarkably, they now have more than a thousand fruit trees on their property!
Picking fruit is a soul nourishing pastime. I love to see what type of fruits grow in local micro-climates; and to taste, smell and feel the small differences in citrus, avocados, stone fruits like peaches, and regional favorites like loquats and cherimoyas. Picking fruit gives me a deeply satisfying sense of bounty. I’m thrilled that the Leichtag Foundation and Coastal Roots Farm are going to share this experience with the community when the trees are mature enough to produce. Click here for volunteering opportunities at Coastal Roots Farm.

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