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Advocacy group tells La Jolla community planners it’s still trying for changes in city’s ‘granny flat’ rules

The La Jolla Community Planning Association discussed accessory dwelling units and more during its Nov. 4 meeting online.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Though the board did not vote, the La Jolla Community Planning Association received a progress report from Neighbors for a Better San Diego about local housing ordinances during LJCPA’s Nov. 4 meeting online.

LJCPA last heard from Neighbors for a Better San Diego in July, and though nothing has changed, the advocacy group says it is still working to bring local guidelines in line with those of the state in terms of what is allowable on one’s property.

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. Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, also are commonly known as “granny flats.”

An amendment the City Council approved in October 2020 (before 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. It also increased the allowable height and removed setback requirements, according to Geoffrey Hueter, chairman of Neighbors for a Better San Diego.

He said his group would like the city to revise its regulations to align more closely with the state code, an effort LJCPA supported in July.

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

Hueter said California law differs from San Diego law in that “at the state level, you have to allow at least one ADU/junior unit per property; … at the San Diego level, outside of a transit priority area, you’re allowed two additional ADUs, and we think that’s a misinterpretation of city code. Inside the transit priority area, you’re allowed as many ADUs as you can fit.”

Transit priority areas are defined by their proximity to public transit.

Hueter said the group also would like an affordability provision added to the city’s ADU code. “The state requires that there be some incentive to build affordable ADUs, and different cities have selected different methods,” he said. “A typical one is free plan reviews, fee reductions, things that make the process more streamlined and less expensive.

“What San Diego did was implement a density bonus, which is effectively upzoning beyond the density allowed by the state to the point where we have seen five or more ADUs added to a project.”

He said the rent levels achievable under this program are comparable to market rate, “so we have seen projects where half the ADUs were deemed affordable [but] the rents are basically $2,000 a month. So we’re not really getting to the real lack of affordable housing in San Diego.”

Neighbors for a Better San Diego proposes changing the city code to allow larger ADUs instead of multiple ADUs and creating a uniform standard across San Diego, regardless of proximity to public transit.

Hueter said the group has met with City Council members to try to find someone to shepherd its proposals and will continue to do so.

LJCPA did not take any action beyond its initial vote of support, but President Diane Kane thanked the group for its work.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association next meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2, online. Learn more at lajollacpa.org. ◆