Second Unit Rules Still Under Revision


After debating new rules for second units in Laguna Beach, elected officials decided on regulations to allow them within existing structures, but postponed determining if they should be banned altogether out of safety concerns from the town’s manynarrow, dead-end streets.

Having heard from numerous residents and reaching consensus on some topics but not others, the Laguna Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday, May 8, to put off preliminary approval of regulations over so-called accessory dwelling units until July 10.

New state ADU regulations took effect Jan. 1, 2017, and Laguna Beach began updating its regulations last May. The Planning Commission reviewed the issue in three hearings last year. Council members also reviewed the new ordinance on March 6, but delayed action.

The state’s law aims to encourage development of affordable housing by mandating cities waive some second-unit development restrictions, such as parking requirements, lot and dwelling size.

The Council decided on several elements of the ordinance, including how to define public transit. The state law exempts required parking if an ADU is located a half-mile from a transit route or stop.

Council member Bob Whalen disagreed with a staff recommendation to narrow the definition of public transit as based solely on OCTA’s Coast Highway bus route, rather than also including the city’s own mainline bus service that runs into some hillside neighborhoods year-round. The council agreed to include both in determining what areas of the city where ADUs could potentially be developed.

Officials also determined that ADUs developed within existing homes must comply with Government Code 65852.2 subdivision (e), which allows such units in a single-family residence so long as they have their own exterior access, and the side and rear setbacks are sufficient for fire safety, the latter which will be determined by city staff. The city will require the primary residence to be owner-occupied.

The Council also directed staff to develop an ADU enforcement and monitoring program to be brought back for later approval.

Council members put off a staff recommendation to spur development of affordable units for low- to moderate-income individuals or seniors by allowing them on lots of 4,000 square feet rather than the 6,000-square-foot minimum that’s currently in the ordinance.

And forbidding ADU parking exemptions in streets with so-called “impaired access” was also put off. Staff recommended that ADUs with parking exemptions should only be approved in impaired areas if there’s a 20-foot-wide unobstructed paved lane due to fire and safety concerns from additional density.

Council members Rob Zur Schmiede and Toni Iseman favored restricting ADUs in two zones with impaired access. Other council members felt that option was too broad. Whalen wondered if ADUs should be restricted from some specific streets, such as the top of Bluebird Canyon Drive, which has but one entry way.

A map of the city’s most restricted streets will be prepared for the July hearing, City Manager John Pietig said.

Cody Engle, an 11-year resident, was one of many seniors who spoke in staunch support of allowing ADUs. Engle and other members of Laguna Beach Seniors have shared their views with staff working on the ordinance.

For Engle and his wife, the advocacy is personal. They plan to add a second unit to their home in Bluebird Canyon so that a live-in caregiver can reside there when the time comes.

“Having a live-in caregiver will be critical,” Engle said. “Aging in place is one of the primary objectives of Laguna Beach Seniors.”

Engle said he approved of the Council’s decisions thus far and was delighted by the overwhelming public support voiced for ADUs.

“For the council to initially consider not allowing any units in the impacted areas, that was a great concern,” Engle said. “Fortunately, the council saw that was not a great idea and ended up making the right decision.”

Some public speakers were specifically concerned with creating affordable housing options for students, artists and other young people.

Senior resident Chuck Trevisan said he rents his two units exclusively to young people in need of affordable housing; a 400-square-foot unit for $1,100 and a 500-square-foot unit for $1,300. Trevisan said he has Parkinson’s disease and that his renters are “good people” who frequently help him.

“Let’s not become a city of old retired people,” Trevisan said. “Young people need these housing units.”

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