For the first time in 20 years, the City of Encinitas is sponsoring a bill in the state legislature.
Authored by our state Senator Pat Bates, SB 1226 will give homeowners more opportunities to permit their existing accessory dwelling units, sometimes known as granny flats or mother-in-law apartments. The bill allows a building inspector to apply the code in effect during the year the unit was built instead of applying the most recent code in determining that the unit is safe and habitable.
The city estimates that we may have a thousand unpermitted accessory units in Encinitas. Many owners would prefer to have their unit permitted if they could get a permit without exorbitant cost or essentially rebuilding the unit from the ground up.
In some circumstances, the only option for someone who can’t permit a unit is to tear it down. For a city and a state in a housing crisis, that is not a desirable option. We’re aiming for more homes, not fewer.
Very old units sometimes cannot be permitted under current codes because, for example, the ceiling height in a basement apartment is too low or the thickness of the walls doesn’t comply with current fire standards.
The goal of the bill is to give homeowners another means to get their accessory units approved. Having a permit gives owners piece of mind, instead of fearing that their neighbors could report them into code enforcement. And it allows the city to do more, in a reasonable way, to ensure that our housing stock is secure and livable.
Accessory units are an important form of housing in Encinitas because they are frequently smaller and more affordable, rented by an individual person supplementing monthly income. The unit can also provide multi-generational housing, or housing for a caregiver.
The city advocated for a similar housing bill two years ago, but the earlier proposed version allowed a building inspector wide discretion when permitting an accessory unit to ensure it was safe and habitable, but it didn’t tie the inspector to any specific year. When this met with opposition from those who feared a lack of specificity and uniformity across cities, among other concerns, SB 1226 was drafted as the preferred alternative.
Accessory units in the city of Encinitas cannot be rented for less than 30 days, which is part of the city’s effort to prevent them being used as short-term vacation rentals. The city is trying to provide housing for residents, not hotel rooms.
SB 1226 passed on consent in the state Senate, and was unanimously approved in the Assembly Housing and Community Development committee after Senator Pat Bates and I spoke on its behalf. After heading to the Assembly Appropriations Committee in early August, the bill will be headed to the floor of the Assembly and then to the governor’s desk, where it will hopefully be signed into law. Fingers crossed! I’m excited for the city to be tackling our housing concerns from multiple angles. This bill at the state level is just one of several efforts.
And finally, I hope everyone enjoyed their Fourth of July, a special day for Americans as we remember the birth of our nation. Did you know that two of America’s first presidents and founding fathers died on the same July 4th, exactly 50 years after our nation’s founding? John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both took their last breaths after living to see the new nation make it a half century.
Given our country’s current challenges and struggles, I find it reassuring to consider and appreciate the resilience of our democracy over the past 242 tumultuous years.
Catherine S. Blakespear serves as Encinitas mayor. She can be reached with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org