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State rules change the city’s plans for ADUs

by Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

Claremont is once again trying to craft an ADU ordinance that satisfies the state’s new standards.

The planning commission voted 6-1 Tuesday evening to send the city’s new ADU regulations to the council for adoption. The lone no vote came from commissioner Douglas Lyon, who vehemently opposed the idea of the state mandating housing regulations.

An accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, is a secondary residential structure on a property. These are seen by the state as a way to chip away at California’s ongoing housing crisis.

Other names for ADUs are back houses or granny flats.

Claremont has been working on its own ADU ordinance since 2018, and finally adopted one in September 2019 after months of scrutiny. The ordinance dramatically freed up restrictions and regulations on back houses in Claremont.

But Governor Gavin Newsom signed three new bills—Assembly Bill 68, Assembly Bill 881 and Senate Bill 13—into law on October 9 of last year, easing restrictions on ADUs. Those bills went into effect on January 1.

“There were basically three cooks in this kitchen,” city attorney Alisha Patterson said to the commission, “all those bills got approved, and they all got meshed into one law.”

This forced Claremont to go back to the drawing board to offer new amendments to the commission for approval.

Ms. Patterson outlined the four types of ADUs that are now officially considered “by-right,” meaning they cannot be denied by the city—ADUs built within existing structures such as garages, pool houses and storage areas; ADUs detached from the home; those created within rooms otherwise not made for living spaces (such as a boiler room, an attic or basement) as long as they comply with building codes; and detached units on multi-family lots.

The new state laws mandate cities approve ADUs of at least 800 square feet for a one-bedroom and 1,000 square feet for two bedrooms, regardless of lot size. This is in contrast to the city’s 2019 ordinance, which allowed for ADUs up to 600 square feet for most residential areas and up to 700 square feet for the largest lots in north Claremont.

Also going away is the owner-occupancy requirement, which was a centerpiece of the city’s 2019 ordinance and required the owner of the property live in either the main house or the ADU.

The new state laws also allow for junior accessory dwelling units, or JADUs—smaller units no larger than 500 square feet that the city did not allow prior to the new state laws taking effect.

JADUs don’t have the same requirements as ADUs; while they can have their own cooking facilities and sleeping quarters, they can share a bathroom with the main house. On multi-family properties, an ADU and a JADU can be built on the same lot.

The new regulations also cut the approval process in half, from 120 days to 60 days. The city initially had two approval paths in their 2019 ordinance—ministerial, meaning approval by the city if all the design standards are met, and a discretionary path that allowed an applicant to go to the commissions for approval of an ADU that did not meet those standards.

The discretionary path has now been scrapped under the new draft ordinance.  

The new state regulations also mandate a four-foot setback between the rear and side property lines and the ADUs, much smaller than the eight-foot setbacks outlined in the city’s previous ordinance.

To combat this, the city added a rule prohibiting entry doors and windows lower than six feet on a side where the exterior property line is fewer than eight feet from the ADU. This was to provide more privacy, the city said.

Ms. Patterson explained that some cities are forgoing crafting ordinances completely, opting instead to go with the state regulations. This could be partly because these regulations are a “five-year experiment,” she called them, since they have a sunset date of January 2025.

She also noted that some of the language in the new state regulations was unclear, calling them a “moving target.” There was a possibility that if the city were to send their new ordinance to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), it would be sent back with corrections.

At least one nonprofit group has already taken notice. The city received a letter minutes before the meeting from Los Angeles-based Californians for Home Ownership, which took issue with several parts of this new ADU ordinance, claiming they are unlawful.

The group in part objected to some of the city’s architectural design standards, calling them “so subjective and vague that they cannot be enforced as part of a ministerial review process” and said it was a way for city officials to veto projects they don’t like.

When asked about the letter, Community Development Director Brad Johnson said he did not agree that portions of the city’s ordinance were unlawful, and added he sent the draft ordinance to the HCD for comment before the council makes a final decision.

The commission seemed resigned to the changes from the state, but still adamant that it needed to move forward with the resolution. Chair Richard Rosenbluth noted that if this ordinance were not passed, the city would have virtually no local control rather than some control.

Commissioner Douglas Lyon claimed that with these new changes, state legislators were becoming “tyrannical.”

“I’m frankly appalled that our own legislature in Sacramento would do this to us again,” he said. “That they would wipe out all of our recent hard work that we put into crafting the ADU ordinance that was just approved last year. I’m appalled that our legislature would rob us of more local control again.”

He put forth a motion denying the new ADU ordinance, replacing it with the old 2005 ordinance and declaring Claremont a “sanctuary city” from any further state ADU mandates. The motion died after nobody else seconded it.

The revised ordinance passed, 6-1. It will now be sent to the city council for final approval.

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