City OKs New Ordinance on Accessory Dwelling Units

The La Cañada Flintridge City Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a new ordinance regarding accessory dwelling units based on the recommendation of the Planning Commission’s staff.
The ordinance, which had a first reading before the council on May 19, “would streamline the permitting of ADUs and junior accessory dwelling units in accordance with recent state legislation,” Director of Community Development Susan Koleda told the council before it voted. The new policy also will allow ADUs up to 800 square feet and 16 feet high, with setbacks that would be a minimum of 4 feet in the side and rear yards. It also permits ADUs and JDUs on every family lot and limits off-street parking requirements consistent with state law.
“This is an improvement over the last ordinance,” Koleda said, “including how we measure 16-foot height, with clarifications to other sections of the ordinance, which is far more easily understandable to the public and developers trying to construct ADUs.”
However, the prospect of a new ordinance was a concern for local resident David Haxton, who wrote to the council that the new rules would allow ADUs to be constructed on front yards close to a street. Units were previously required to be constructed behind the main home or lot. Haxton urged the council to amend the proposal to require that ADUs be placed behind the front point of the primary residence.
Koleda, responding to the comments, told the council that ADUs must be compliant with front-yard setback requirements and that the configuration of homes in the city makes it complicated because the front yard does not necessarily face the street.
“Front yards can be very [wide],” she added. “Even if a requirement was the ADU had to be located behind the house, at times it can still be visible from the public street. State rules allow existing accessory structures to be converted to ADUs with a ministerial approval and very quick and easy process. So, [often] there is very little staff is going to be able to do to prevent an ADU from being constructed. If we had standard lots throughout La Cañada this would be an easy fix, but given some of the configurations we have, staff felt this was the best approach that we could take.”
Mayor Mike Davitt echoed Haxton’s concern, asking the staff to revisit state laws so council members’ authority regarding ADUs is clear.
“I don’t think we want people building these things in their front yard even if it’s outside the setback,” he said. “Couldn’t we make an exception for that and then prohibit this? I don’t think this is real logical in my mind.
“But if state law says you don’t have to put it in the front yard, I’d sure like to carve that out a bit for protection.”
Aware that ADUs are a subject of ongoing discussion in California, the council ultimately voted in favor of the ordinance but asked the staff to return with another report advising city officials on what can be amended and enforced.
“The state is not going to let up on this housing thing, and we’re going to have to be on our toes,” Councilman Rick Gunter said before moving to adopt the ordinance. “Ninety percent of a good thing is better than 0% of a good thing.”

IDENTITY THEFT PROTECTION

A recent spike in identity theft and fraud prompted the council to request a presentation from two sheriff’s detectives to advise members and residents how to better protect themselves from such crimes.
Community members, especially the elderly, were urged to be vigilant about their personal information — such as bank accounts, credit cards and credit scores — so they can notice fraudulent charges quickly, making it easier for them to recover any lost funds.
Criminals use skimming devices on ATM machines to capture information off cards’ magnetic stripes, and the same can be done at gas pumps, the council was told.
One of the detectives suggested people use credit cards more often because debit cards give suspects access to banking accounts, making it more difficult for victims to get their money back.
Potential victims can avoid phishing schemes by noticing spelling or grammatical errors in emails or text messages they receive. Criminals usually request possible victims to click on a link and provide information so they can steal it.
Personal information can also be taken digitally when there is a data breach from a website that has account holders’ information.
Telephone scams targeting the elderly — often with urgent messages that a relative of the potential victim is in trouble — can be a way for suspects to gain information and money quickly. The detectives said it’s best for the would-be victim to call family members to confirm that they’re safe.
A big issue lately, the council was told, has been mail theft because of the sending of stimulus checks by the federal government as a result of the CARES Act. Some criminals have manufactured counterfeit keys that open big mail depositories.
All of the information will be posted on the city website.

STAFF UPDATES ON CITY PROJECTS

The Devil’s Gate Dam project is starting to pick up, as workers are expected to begin hauling debris today.
With 26% of the material targeted in the sediment removal project having been cleaned out in the endeavor’s first year, Director of Public Works Patrick DeChellis expressed optimism that it will finish earlier than anticipated because of the current rotation of haul trucks. But he stated that the county-supervised project remains on a four-year plan that cannot be accelerated because of environmental reports.
DeChellis also informed the council about the annual citywide resurfacing project, stating the contractor started work this week and is scheduled to finish by mid-July.
The county recently did a pavement analysis of LCF streets and gave a positive grade.
“I’m happy to report our grade is a B,” DeChellis told the council. “It’s actually been increasing slightly every year for the last few years.”
The improvement is very much dependent on the city’s commitment to the project. County officials advised DeChellis that as long as LCF continues to invest $1 million a year, it will maintain the condition that exists today, he said.

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