Yearlong ‘granny flat’ amnesty program yields six participants

ENCINITAS — A well publicized push to legalize the potentially hundreds of illegal accessory dwelling units in Encinitas yielded six participants, city officials said in a recent report.

The City Council last year approved a yearlong package of incentives aimed at prompting owners of so-called “granny flats” to participate in the city’s affordable unit program, which allows owners to receive permits for their previously unpermitted units in exchange for pledging those units for low-income residents.

According a report written by the city’s planning department, six people applied for the amnesty program, of which only one has been approved. The city fielded another 52 inquiries about the program, but people opted not to participate for several main reasons:

  • It costs too much time and money to bring the units up to code
  • Residents were concerned that the cost to bring the units up to code would not be recouped due to the rental restrictions
  • Given the city’s property values, residents concluded it would be easier to sell the properties, which in many cases are older, and allow the new owners to rebuild or participate in the amnesty program.

A number of residents have viewed the legalization of the illegal dwelling units as a critical piece of the city’s affordable housing stock, which they said could lower the number of units the city would have to plan for in the ongoing housing element update.

A state Housing and Community Development official confirmed last week that the legalized units would be counted among the new housing stock in the housing element.

Bob Bonde, who has spearheaded the amnesty effort, said at a recent council meeting that he was disappointed by the results, and blamed the city for its lack of success.

“There are just too many obstacles still in place,” Bonde said.

One of the biggest obstacles, Bonde said, was a city requirement that the dwelling units have sprinkler units before they receive city permits. Encinitas requires this despite the state granting an exception for such units.

“It’s unreasonable and really costly to put these systems in,” Bonde said.

Bonde also said the city could waive certain fees and extend the program to property owners who have built illegal units since before the passage of Proposition A in 2013. Under the current amnesty provisions, homeowners who have built their units before 2004 are eligible, which was a break from the previous cutoff, the city’s 1986 incorporation date.

The City Council voted on Dec. 16 to extend its amnesty provisions for six months, but vowed to craft a program that will generate more participants.

“My Council colleagues supported my suggestion that we send this topic to the city manager to analyze and present us with possible solutions,” Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear said.  “We’ve had a change in staff since the last effort at an amnesty program, which netted a total of only 6 participants. With some focused attention we can come up with a better program.”


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