City Delays Decision on Second Unit Ordinance

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By Allison Jarrell, Special to the Independent

The Laguna Beach City Council reviewed long-awaited amendments to its accessory dwelling unit ordinance Tuesday, March 6, but put off making a decision. It could be months before the Council moves forward with considering revisions to the law again.

New state regulations regarding ADUs took effect more than a year ago on Jan. 1, 2017, and the city began updating its regulations last May. But Council members said they need more time to review the mandated provisions.

“This is going to take more than just two times for us to discuss this,” said Council member Steve Dicterow.

The Planning Commission reviewed the issue in September and November before finally reaching consensus on revisions to the city’s ADU ordinance on Dec. 13.

The state’s law aims to address the California housing shortage by encouraging the development of affordable housing options for seniors, students, the disabled, relatives and in-home health care providers by mandating cities waive some second-unit development restrictions, such as parking requirements, lot and dwelling size.

City planning records show a significant spike in interest by property owners eager to build their own accessory units. Plans for just over 50 units have been submitted to planners since 2014, with 14 units currently under construction under the city’s existing regulations. That compares to 20 units approved over the previous 18 years, 1995 through 2013.

Ten residents spoke on the issue Tuesday night, many supporters of the nonprofit Laguna Beach Seniors. Views varied from those favoring opportunities for multi-generational housing to those wary of consequences under the new law.

“The intent is to provide affordable housing options for family members, students, the elderly, in-home care providers and the disabled. To the extent it does that, it’s a good thing,” said resident John Thomas. “But the state mandate does not require that these be the only beneficiaries, and it does not require that these options be affordable, but merely at no higher than market prices. So all the state is doing is facilitating increased intensity of land use with no mitigation of the impacts on the infrastructure.”

Chris Quilter, past president of the Laguna Beach Seniors, offered a different perspective, that the change is an “opportunity and not an attack” on Laguna Beach’s way of life.

“Accessory dwelling units within existing structures are going to be the least visible, the least impactful way of providing affordable housing that I can think of,” Quilter said. “That strikes me as the only low-hanging fruit we have in this conversation. We have to do something, and this would be the right thing to do even if the state did not require it of us.”

Council members gave feedback to staff on recommendations for ordinance revisions made by the Planning Commission, but ultimately decided to not take any action due to the complicated nature of the issue.

Of the commission’s recommendations, the Council seemed to reach a consensus against requiring covered replacement parking for garages converted into dwellings.

Council member Bob Whalen requested staff look into the legality of defining public transit “fixed routes” as OCTA bus routes rather than including Laguna Beach trolley stops. The state allows an exemption for parking if an ADU is located a half-mile from a transit route or stop.

“I think this is a stretch that benefits us,” Whalen said. “There is a 12-month, seven-day-a-week system we run, and I think if challenged on that, somebody’s going to say that’s public transit.”

Mayor Pro Tem Rob Zur Schmiede also asked staff to review the General Plan Safety Element to explore excluding ADUs in “impaired access areas” due to safety concerns.

Council member Toni Iseman wanted to know how other cities such as Costa Mesa, Santa Monica and Newport Beach are interpreting the law.

Greg Pfost, director of community development, said he will come back with another series of options to evaluate.

City Manager John Pietig said it may “be a little while” before staff will be able to return with the desired information and changes to the ordinance. “We’ll try to get it in in a couple of months,” Pietig said.


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