La Jolla community planners and others find San Diego accessory dwelling ordinance ‘worrisome’

The La Jolla Community Planning Association's July 1 meeting
The La Jolla Community Planning Association’s July 1 meeting included discussion of a San Diego housing ordinance amendment that could affect La Jolla.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

LJCPA votes to ask the city to rescind the legislation and precisely conform with state code.


A Kensington-based community group is issuing a warning about a housing ordinance amendment that could go into effect in La Jolla later this year.

Geoffrey Hueter, representing Neighbors for a Better San Diego, presented before the La Jolla Community Planning Association during its July 1 meeting.

In 2017, the city of San Diego passed an accessory dwelling unit ordinance that loosened restrictions on building companion units of up to 1,200 square feet or junior units up to 500 square feet on one’s property.

An amendment approved last October under the former City Council (five new members were elected the following month), changed the ordinance to allow up to three ADUs on a property in certain areas and unlimited ADUs in others, increased the allowable height and removed setback requirements, according to Hueter.

“We think that’s an egregious overstep from what the state intended, which is to allow people to build a small rental or an apartment for a family member,” he said.

La Jolla’s coastal area is currently excluded from the new guidelines because of a coastal overlay zone. However, the amendment is slated to be heard by the California Coastal Commission this fall, at which time that could change.

Neighbors for a Better San Diego presented a list of recommendations for the San Diego City Council, such as changing the San Diego ADU ordinance to align with the state’s ADU ordinance allowing for one ADU and one junior ADU on a property, establishing a 4-foot setback, limiting height to 16 feet and waiving fees that the state waives and nothing more.

Because the city’s amendment went into effect recently, many of the ADUs that could be built within the new guidelines are in the permitting phase. But Neighbors for a Better San Diego supporter Danna Givot offered a story from the city’s Talmadge neighborhood as a glimpse of what could come should the amendment be allowed in La Jolla.

She said a developer “outbid homeowners to buy an 1,100-square-foot single-family house and has approval to turn the 350-square-foot garage into another unit, and in the back he is building two two-story apartments. ... As soon as that starts, we’re worried it’s going to be a domino effect.”

LJCPA trustees and others attending the meeting echoed those concerns.

“I find all this worrisome, mostly because I don’t think it’s been thought through,” said trustee Greg Jackson. “Buried in all this is the legitimate goal, which is the notion that there is not enough housing in California. The policy question is whether that should be entirely accommodated inland and in desert areas … or whether we should do densification in areas that are not terribly dense. That’s a legitimate policy question that is getting lost in some very alarming things.”

LJCPA President Diane Kane said she is not opposed to affordable housing and thinks ADUs are fine, “but they need to be planned. And this isn’t planning, this is throwing spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks. This is rife for abuse. I want this done within the context of a plan.”

La Jollan Phil Merten said there are underutilized multifamily zones across the city and that changing the rules in a single-family neighborhood without a public vote “rejects the covenant between homeowners and the city officials who agree to existing zoning.”

Neighbors for a Better San Diego asked LJCPA to write a letter asking the city to rescind the legislation and amend its code to precisely conform with state code in terms of heights and setbacks. A motion to send the letter passed unanimously. ◆