Mayor’s Minute: New accessory unit policy aims to increase ‘granny flats’

Good news! I’m excited to tell you about changes to the city’s accessory dwelling unit policy to make creation and permitting of “granny flats” easier.

Updating our city’s granny flat policy has been one of my top priorities in office, so I’m tremendously proud of the entire team that helped us accomplish these important changes, and grateful to the City Council for their unanimous support. The new policy helps tackle the affordable housing shortage in Encinitas, while providing intergenerational housing opportunities that allow families to have both connectivity and privacy.

The new policy should help us minimize upzoning on other parcels of the city to meet state housing requirements. Last year we permitted 38 granny flats. I’m hopeful that with the new ordinance changes we can at least double that number.

As you know, Encinitas faces a mighty hurdle in creating more affordable housing in our city. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) can be an important part of the solution. Here’s why:

• Our existing neighborhoods offer opportunities to scatter housing instead of concentrating it. Accessory units can be designed to maintain the community character that surrounds them. We have a lot of single-family homes — about 20,000 out of our 25,000 total housing units in the city. The other 5,000 housing units are apartments and mobile homes. The suburban nature of our city makes granny flats a form of housing that is easier to absorb.

• Granny flats especially benefit multigenerational families that can include seniors, students, the disabled, and in-home health care providers.

• Allowing more granny flats helps current residents of Encinitas. The units can provide income to homeowners, give flexibility as families evolve, and allow people to age in place when they retire and need an income.

The new Encinitas ordinance relies on changes in state law from 2016 and 2017. The ordinance would become effective after Coastal Commission approval.

We decided to waive all city fees — usually about $3,000 — for the development of accessory units, which sends a strong message about our interest in developing this housing type. The city is also creating a “permit-ready” program whereby we provide plans for already approved units.

A junior accessory unit policy was also approved, essentially allowing a room of an existing house to be walled off, with an internal door and the creation of an efficiency kitchen. Per state law, the junior accessory unit is limited to 500 square feet and includes a cooking facility with appliances that don’t require electric service greater than 120 volts, or natural or propane gas.

Because the granny flats are designed to provide housing, not serve the tourist market, they have to be rented for at least 30 days, which effectively prohibits their use as vacation rentals.

To comply with California housing laws, we are laser-focused on getting official credit with the state for every housing unit built in Encinitas.

My hunch is that some rent their units at below-market rate, which means those rentals are more likely to qualify in the “affordable housing” category. Many residents are not renting as a business intending to maximize every last dollar. They want some income but they also want a neighborly friend or family member as a tenant, or they have other circumstances. Some allow family members to live there for free or for minimal rent.

In a related issue, it’s been estimated that Encinitas has at least 1,000 unpermitted accessory units, many of them pre-dating our 1986 incorporation as a city. The city is sponsoring Senate Bill 1226, introduced recently by our state Senator Pat Bates, which would allow cities to use the building code in effect in the year the unit was constructed in order to bring unpermitted units up to code. This is another tool for the city to help us address housing and safety needs in a way that is compatible with the city’s community character.

If you have any questions about a unit that you may like to build or permit, please email or call 760-633-2710.

This excerpt from a state housing source sums it up nicely: “ADUs are an affordable type of home to construct in California because they do not require paying for land, major new infrastructure, structured parking, or elevators. ADUs are built with cost-effective one- or-two story wood frame construction, which is significantly less costly than homes in new multifamily infill buildings. ADUs can provide as much living space as the new apartments and condominiums being built in new infill buildings and serve very well for couples, small families, friends, young people, and seniors.”

It’s gratifying to be modifying our codes to help families remain in Encinitas neighborhoods, and adapt to the realities of increasingly expensive home and rental prices, long commutes, youth living at home longer and the desire to either age in place or join the family structure created by younger family members.

Our local ordinances shouldn’t be an impediment to families, but should accommodate the entire range of desirable living opportunities. This ADU policy is a step in the right direction.     

Encinitas Mayor Catherine S. Blakespear writes a monthly column in the Coast News and can be reached at


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