The city is working on a permanent ordinance to levy rules on accessory dwelling units (such as guest houses) in San Marino after enacting an urgency ordinance to extend the interim one passed in December.
The new regulations are in response to mandates passed by the state legislature. Both the state assembly and state senate voted last year to restrict how municipal and county governments can regulate accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.
“Recognizing the importance of ADUs in addressing California’s severe housing crisis, these amendments help reduce development barriers and expand potential capacity to build ADUs,” Mayor Dr. Richard Sun explained in an emailed statement.
“ADU law and recent changes intend to address barriers, streamline approval process and expand potential capacity for ADUs, recognizing their unique importance in addressing California’s housing needs.”
The city’s temporary ordinance allows for accessory dwelling units no larger than 1,000 square feet on properties that are at least 12,000 square feet. The main structure on the property must be the primary residence of the property owner. Unless the property is within half a mile of a bus stop, it must have private parking for the resident of the accessory dwelling unit.
Sun said the state’s intent was to prevent local governments from arbitrarily imposing “burdensome or excessive” restrictions for homeowners who wish to have an ADU on their property.
Since the City Council approved the interim ordinance in December, a former city councilman and mayor — Dennis Kneier — applied to have an accessory structure on his property classified as an ADU. Kneier said he believes ADUs can help San Marino in two ways: increasing property values and filling low-income housing requirements.
“We already have guests who periodically stay there,” Kneier explained in an interview following the Jan. 11 City Council meeting. “We have Huntington (Library) scholars who stay there when they’re doing research.”
Kneier, who lives on Hampton Road, said the unit was on the property when he bought it decades ago (he speculated it may have been a maid’s on-site residence). Although he expects to continue letting scholars use the unit, he said he is seeking the ADU designation to add a low-income housing unit to the city’s total and improve his property’s value.
“Having this flexibility is a good thing, and I think it’s a good thing for the city because the city has to come up with housing units under the housing element of our General Plan,” he added.
Sun reflected this in his statement, specifically saying the city may report ADUs as progress toward the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation “based on actual or anticipated affordability,” which has been “a challenge to our city, historically.”
Kneier said, “Oh, hell yeah,” when asked whether he believes having an ADU would increase his property’s value and appeal to prospective buyers. He said he does not expect to sell his home in the foreseeable future.
The city recommended the minimum property size to be 12,000 square feet because nearly half of the residential parcels in San Marino are at least that large.
Councilman Steve Talt questioned other aspects at the most recent City Council meeting regarding ADUs, specifically how they could potentially impact existing utility infrastructure (ADUs must have kitchen and bathroom facilities). He also was concerned about how they could potentially burden local schools by out-of-district parents renting a unit so teenagers can live on their own and attend San Marino schools.
“We are a single family residence community, and have been since our formation,” Talt pointed out at the meeting.
City Attorney Steve Dorsey said at the meeting the issue of teenagers living in ADUs would have to be handled in an ordinance independent of this one. The ordinance currently being discussed only concerns the developmental restrictions of ADUs.
Talt explained in a follow-up interview that he thinks the state’s legislation is unclear on what restrictions local governments may impose on ADUs. As an example, he pointed out property owners often convert garages into ADUs. In San Marino, that could congest properties quickly.
“A lot of garages are right up on the property line,” he said. “Is that a fire hazard? Do we have the ability to enforce that restriction?”
Talt added he believes the state law is an “overreach” and an attempt to force cities and counties to provide more low-income housing units.
“There’s no question that’s what it is,” he added. “While well-intended, it wasn’t well-thought-out.”
Considering the city’s prior opposition to mixed-use buildings, Talt said he also would oppose opening wide doors to the rental industry in the city. However, that did not necessarily mean he opposed having ADUs at all.
“If people are going to use secondary units to house a family, that’s fine,” he said. “But to create a whole rental community in San Marino, I think that’s a problem. There are some cities that thrive on that, but San Marino’s never been about that.”
Sun stressed the need for the city to meet the state’s requirements in a balanced way to reflect the city’s development standards.
“The city of San Marino needs to face the new state ADU amendments and draft ADU ordinance in a positive way to meet the intent of the state Legislature,” he said in his statement.
December’s interim ordinance was originally to last through Jan. 28. With the urgency ordinance extension, it will now last through November.