City proposes state bill to ease ‘granny flat’ requirements

ENCINITAS — At almost every Encinitas meeting involving the city’s housing element, speakers would ask city officials to do more to increase the stock of accessory dwelling units citywide as a way to add affordable housing and do it without building large, community character-altering apartments.

Encinitas officials have responded on two fronts, including proposing a statewide bill that would loosen some restrictions on so-called “granny flats.”

The bill, which is being carried by Sen. Patricia “Pat” Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), would allow a local inspector to certify an accessory unit for basic health and safety, but not require the owner to comply with all current building codes, which Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear explained can be prohibitively expensive or literally impossible.

“Many of these units remain unpermitted because the owner’s only option is to completely rebuild the unit or tear it down,” Blakespear said. “Obstacles can include drywall that’s too thin; a ceiling that’s too low; or insulation, windows, lateral resistance, and seismic requirements that don’t meet current code requirements.”

The bill would sunset in five years, which Blakespear said was added later in the bill-writing process to incentivize property owners to take advantage of it.

“It wasn’t something we were aiming for, but as part of the bill making process and getting buy-in from other stakeholder groups and interested parties that the legislature depends on for advice, it was something they saw as important because they didn’t want to have this be an open-ended thing,” Blakespear said. “There would be no sense of urgency if it was seen as a permanent change.”

While still early in the process, Blakespear said she was encouraged from the initial response from affordable housing advocates, lawmakers and their staff.

“We have done a lot of work to gain support and we’ve reached out to a large number of people,” Blakespear said. “I have a sense that there is a lot of enthusiasm about the bill.

“I think there is a lot of energy about making housing habitable and safe, but also adding more housing,” she said. “I think it is the right time for the bill.”

Encinitas is not the only community wrestling with accessory dwelling units and making them more available as housing stock. Even larger cities such as Los Angeles have been working to make them more available, as they are seen as one of the ways to increase affordable housing stock without changing the character of neighborhoods.  Blakespear said she’s heard it referred to as “invisible density.”

“They don’t add a lot of parking problems, or crowding or big, massive hulking buildings, so it is a way to add people to the scene, and I like that, especially in Encinitas, because it fits into the community character,” Blakespear added.

On the local front, the council has requested staff look at some of the city’s code that stakeholders, such as longtime Encinitas resident and accessory unit champion Bob Bonde, have identified as inhibitors of the creation of more            such units.

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