Discussion Picks Up About Second Units on Single Home Properties

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The Planning Commission wants to gauge community opinion before it submits its recommendations to the City Council on a permanent ordinance regarding accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. ADUs are a second unit on the property, often in the form of a converted garage or a small unit that previously housed a maid.
The state passed a handful of bills last year that significantly restricts city governments’ ability to regulate ADUs. Regardless of property size, any homeowner is allowed to convert an existing structure (again, such as a garage) into an ADU and doing so supersedes any local regulations that relate to parking.
The topic was discussed at the Planning Commission’s meeting on Wednesday, April 26, among the commissioners and several audience members. An eventual permanent ordinance on ADUs will have to balance concerns about preserving San Marino’s unique aesthetic appeal and the wish by many residents to exercise their private property rights.
“We don’t want to pass something that we’re going to have to go back and amend in a few years,” said Commissioner and Vice Chair Susan Jakubowski. “Once we build, it’s really hard to go back after a few years and say ‘This isn’t really what I wanted.’”
The discussion was on this meeting’s agenda because the City Council is seeking input from the Planning Commission as it works toward a permanent ordinance, which must be adopted by Dec. 31.
Prior concerns voiced by the City Council (and echoed by Planning Commission members) include the potential influx of students into the San Marino Unified School District and the burden that could be placed on the city’s aging utility infrastructure. ADUs must have bathrooms and some kitchen appliances, necessitating additional water, sewage and gas hookups.
San Marino’s current urgency ordinance, which was passed in December to ensure the city was not forced to adhere strictly to the state’s baseline rules, levies a 12,000 square-foot property requirement for homeowners who wish to add an entirely new ADU. It also caps the size of a new ADU at 1,000 square feet (the minimum is 150 square feet).
This is where disagreement blossomed on Wednesday, with several residents claiming the state’s laws removed a city’s ability to issue limits on lot size in the spirit of protecting property rights.
“The concern stated by the city engineer about the infrastructure, I think, is a specious one,” said resident Saul Roe.
The state’s intent with the ADU bills was to open up potentially more affordable living options for lower income residents and also accommodate growing populations in Southern California counties, including Los Angeles County.
“I think, from what I’m hearing from officials at the school district, they would be very happy to have a new source of students,” Roe added.
Another resident, Cordelia Donnelly, claimed the imposition of minimum lot sizes on the urgency ordinance made it “null and void” as soon as it was adopted.
“If this ordinance is approved without any changes, it will immediately be null and void,” she said.
Aldo Cervantes, director of Planning and Zoning for the city, said to his knowledge, about a third of the cities in California that have adopted their own ordinances regarding ADUs have set limits on property sizes (Pasadena’s minimum lot size is 15,000 square feet).
Commissioner Raymond Cheng said people tend to move to San Marino because of its virtually citywide R-1 zone, which is single family residential, that facilitates large — and private — homes for its high-income residents.
“Some already are rented out,” he said, “and I guarantee they will add on a rental [ADU]. These immediately become an income property.
“We may want to spend the next few months listening to the community and find out what they really want,” Cheng added.
Jakubowski piggybacked Cheng’s statement.
“I don’t believe the state knows yet what this should look like,” she said. “I think, given the December deadline, we should move slowly on it.”

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