State bills force changes to city’s ADU ordinance

Big changes from the state are coming to Claremont’s ADU ordinance just weeks after it was passed by the city. 

Three bills—AB 68, AB 881 and SB 13—designed to spur construction of ADUs, better known as back houses or granny flats, will take effect on January 1.

Building more ADUs has been identified as one way to hack away at the current housing crisis in California. Instead of having one house on a single-family property, a homeowner can build another, smaller home on their lot if they have the means and desire to do so.

Community Development Director Brad Johnson said the city is still trying to analyze the three bills to see what exactly needs to be amended to make sure the city’s ordinance is in line with state law.

But the modified ordinance needs to be passed by the city council before the new laws go into effect on January 1, allowing a tiny window for city staff to get it through the planning commission and the council.

“We need to turn this around pretty quick,” Mr. Johnson said. 

The changes come at a frustrating time for the city. Claremont had just passed their new ADU ordinance in September after more than a year of scrutiny, which included a negative recommendation from the planning commission after two commissioners objected to different parts of the ordinance.

AB 68, authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting, prohibits minimum lot sizes on which to build an ADU and allows for one ADU and one “junior ADU” on a single property.

The city’s current guidelines allow for ADUs on lots more than 6,000 square feet. While the majority of Claremont residential properties already qualify under the existing code, AB 68 would free it up even more. 

“Essentially every single family-size lot is eligible to apply for an ADU,” Mr. Johnson said.

A junior ADU can be significantly smaller than a regular-sized ADU, and could have a hot plate instead of a full kitchen, Mr. Johnson said. In Claremont’s current ADU code, only one back house is permitted on a qualifying property. 

AB 811 gets rid of a controversial part of Claremont’s ADU ordinance—the owner-occupancy requirement. The requirement means the property owner must reside in either the main house or the ADU.

While the city has said that the owner-occupancy requirement allows for property maintenance accountability and community cohesion, there are concerns that it would discourage ADU building in general. In September, planning commissioner Parker Emerson wanted the requirement out of the ordinance because it only applied to ADUs and not other multi-family dwellings.

But Mr. Johnson said the city is still looking into whether or not this new rule would apply to Claremont. There’s a provision in the bill that allows a city to be grandfathered in if it historically has an owner-occupancy rule in its ordinance, he said.

“That’s something our attorneys need to look at,” he added.

Other changes include the minimum and maximum square footage allowed for an ADU. In Claremont’s current code, smaller properties that qualify can build up to 600 square feet, while larger properties can build an ADU up to 700 square feet.

Mr. Johnson said the new laws could permit an ADU up to 850 square feet for studios and up to 1,000 square feet for a one-bedroom.

The laws also get rid of development impact fees if a homeowner builds an ADU that is less than 750 square feet, Mr. Johnson said.

Right now, the city is in the preliminary stages of looking over the bills and identifying what applies to Claremont and how. From there, they need to push an amended ordinance quickly through the planning commission and on to the city council.

“It’s a pretty big change,” Mr. Johnson said. “We need to figure it all out and amend it quickly before January.”

—Matthew Bramlett


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