“ADUS (granny flats) are being used as extra bedrooms and offices; people are gaming the system.”
Over 40 new state laws are casting shadows over local control of housing, and cities are choosing their battles. In Del Mar, officials are turning to the Coastal Act to fend off increases in height, density and bulk, plus parking reductions.
The new laws, they say, are one-size-fits-all, a burden on local infrastructure, and were drafted more for inland communities. The changes affect affordable housing, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and multi-unit housing in commercial zones. Cities in the coastal zone must also comply with the Coastal Act.
Is there a right to a view that existed prior to a neighbor’s new 2-story accessory dwelling? It’s the sort of question the city is asking as they look for ways to maintain as much local control as possible.
“Clearly your strongest ability is through the Coastal Act,” said Ralph Hicks, assistant city attorney at a city council meeting yesterday. “It could take reinventing your local coastal plan, a different look at your parking standards” or environmentally sensitive resources.
State law allows a detached ADU up to 16 feet above grade. But the height can bump up to 18 feet if it’s within one-half mile walking distance of a major transit stop or high-quality transit corridor, or it’s within an existing multi-story residential development.
Things can get even bigger, up to 25 feet above grade or two stories, if the ADU is attached to a main home. The city can’t set a lower maximum height in its local ordinance.
As the city sees it, incentives provided by state law to spur ADU production are in the way of local strategies to build more low-income units to meet Housing Element obligations. That is: to create fifteen low income units by making incentives available.
Del Mar commercial and professional commercial zones (shown in blue and purple) could allow 20-50 dwellings, with a 45-foot height.
Because state law accommodates large, two-story ADUs through a by-right process, officials say it’s harder for Del Mar to promote the creation of low-income units. They’ll have to adjust their strategy by focusing on sites with existing multi-unit development instead of single units and duplexes.
But accessory dwelling units aren’t being built as low-income housing, councilmember Dave Druker said.
“ADUS are being used as extra bedrooms and offices; people are gaming the system.”
A new concept within the laws is low-income housing in commercial zones, planners said. It can be 100 percent affordable or mixed income. In Del Mar, it applies to the central commercial and professional commercial zones, allowing 20-50 dwellings, with a 45-foot height.
It won’t apply in beach commercial zones, where housing is a lower priority use under the Coastal Act, city staff said.
At this point, the Coastal Commission hasn’t yet provided any guidance on the new laws, some of which take effect in July.
The council tossed around ideas like identifying major public view corridors where “massing” could be in conflict with the local coastal plan, changes to the views ordinance and using open space easements to block ADUs in “inappropriate locations.”
For years, Del Mar’s housing element, which shows how cities will meet their fair share of housing for all income levels, was out of compliance with state law.
“We spent a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to do the 6th cycle” housing element, said mayor Dwight Worden – “how we’re going to get our 175 housing units,” which must be built by 2029 to meet state-mandated housing requirements.
“This other stuff, just more units coming into our town – it doesn’t feel right.”