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Laguna Beach

 Volume 13, Issue 98  |  December 7, 2021

Council approves flexible ADU ordinance


City Council last week approved a code amendment to repeal and replace the city’s Accessory Dwelling Ordinance to comply with state regulations and be more flexible for ADUs.

Council unanimously voted in support of the new ordinance on November 16, although there were some concerns, primarily about parking. Council previously reviewed an earlier draft version of the ordinance and made some recommendations to staff, it was then sent back to the Planning Commission, who suggested their own changes. 

It has come back more liberal than when they reviewed it earlier, Mayor Bob Whalen pointed out, mostly to comply with state law.

“It’s at a good point,” Whalen said. They can approve it “and see where it goes.”

It’s in compliance with state law and the city isn’t playing “catch up” anymore, said Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf. It’s a good ordinance, the key issue is the parking, she said, echoing several other councilmembers’ comments. 

There is a fear about relaxing the parking requirements in neighborhoods with narrow streets where there is already a concern about emergency vehicle access, she said. They spend a lot of time and money on studying fire prevention, disaster preparedness and evacuation planning because it’s a concerning issue in the city.

“If we make it too loose, we’re going to compound our problem,” Kempf said. 

Community Development Director Marc Wiener suggested adding a provision that gives the city the discretion to make a determination based on road access and available on-street parking. Councilmembers strongly supported the idea, which staff added into the resolution during the meeting.

By allowing more flexibility in parking exemptions, the city is being even more lenient and permissible for ADUs than the state, Assistant Director of Community Development So Kim pointed out. 

As of August, the city has approved 70 ADUs, Wiener reported. The average size is 506 square feet and most are created from converting existing structures, he added. Based off of that data and the recent uptick in applications, it could be several hundred over the next few years, he said, giving a rough guesstimate would be about 300-500 over the next three to four years.

“Based on what we’ve seen, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was about that many units,” Wiener said. 

It’s important to note that these are the only units the city has approved in decades, aside from a few projects here and there, Wiener added. Even the 70 units is a lot more than what has historically been built in Laguna Beach, he said.

At a joint City Council and Planning Commission workshop on April 6, officials reviewed and provided input on the draft 6th Cycle Housing Element. The discussion included an ADU amnesty program, which could help bring currently illegal ADUs up to code and count toward the city’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which is 394 units for Laguna Beach’s current cycle.

The ADU program (program five in the Housing Plan section) in the draft Housing Element document is meant to ease restrictions on ADUs and provide incentives for their development or preservation.

Council approves flexible ADU ordinance

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Photo by Scott Brashier

Houses in Laguna Beach 

In April, council reviewed the draft ordinance and gave direction to staff on modifications regarding the rental period for short-term lodging units, the maximum size allowed for ADUs and number of stories permitted. Given the number of changes, city staff brought the updated item back to the Planning Commission for further review. Commissioners made their own recommendations related to setbacks, architectural standards, elevated decks, upper story ADUs, location of ADUs, replacement parking requirements, secondary vehicular access and other development standards.

After council adoption, the LCP amendment will be submitted to the California Coastal Commission for certification. 

The November 16 agenda item also included appropriating $18,000 from the wastewater fund to perform a sewer rate study for ADUs. The city’s adopted sewer user charges do not include a rate for single-family residential properties with ADUs. A study is required to establish an equitable rate. Study results will return to the council for consideration and possible action.

Last week, Kim noted some general development standards, including that ADUs/JADUs are allowed on any lot zoned residential and that there is no minimum lot area required. 

There is also a provision that prohibits units from being rented for a period of less than 31 consecutive days. This was meant to match the short-term lodging regulations, Kim explained, as directed by city council. 

ADUs on lots located within a half mile walking distance are exempt from parking requirements. The public transit definition has been modified to include the trolley, Kim said. 

Although, the free on-demand transit service is not considered public transit because it’s a pilot project and there is no fixed route. 

The trolley runs every day throughout the year on a fixed route on Coast Highway, City Manager Shohreh Dupuis added, so it’s considered public transit because it’s on a fixed route with fixed stops.

State law allows ADUs up to 16 feet tall, which, in some circumstances, could accommodate two floors, Kim pointed out. A property owner could also first construct a second-story addition, which is permitted, then concert the addition to an ADU, which the state law mandates that the city allow. Kim explained that because of these allowances and mandates by the state, the city would not be able to limit ADUs to one story, as council previously directed. Instead, second stories are allowed, but ADUs taller than 16 feet are subject to the design review process. This will ensure that view equity and neighborhood compatibility are considered, Kim said. 

Regarding some council concerns of potential work-arounds, Wiener said that it will likely be pretty uncommon to be able to get two stories under 16 feet in height.

Kim also noted some future policy considerations to incentivize ADUs/JADUs, including a housing and sustainable development grant for the ADU toolkit project. It would report on financing tools and resources to assist property owners.

Much of the discussion revolved around parking, particularly regarding emergency vehicle access on already narrow streets. 

The original draft ordinance required replacement parking for ADUs on lots adjacent to roadways that are less than 20 feet in width (referred to as impaired roadways), Kim noted. But staff found that most of the communities in the city have impaired roads, making it very difficult to propose an ADU without providing additional parking, she said.

Planning commissioners were also concerned this would prohibit conversions of garages into ADUs, particularly if it’s not within the half mile transit radius, Kim said. 

“That was really the basis of where the removal of the replacement parking provision came from,” Kim said. 

The extra parked cars could create an issue with emergency vehicle access, several councilmembers pointed out. 

Whalen gave an example of converting a two-car garage into an ADU, going from two parking spaces to none. That’s not good for the community, he said. 

“I think we’re going to get to a point where we’re going to be facing – down the road – if there’s enough ADUs on a street, we’re going to be looking at banning parking on that street or one side of that street and go down to single side parking, and that’s going to raise all hell with people too,” Whalen said. “It’s a no-win situation, I think, in certain areas.”

There are a lot of impaired access roads in the city that aren’t 20 feet wide, Kempf pointed out. 

With the goal of making the requirements more flexible while considering the parking issues, councilmembers directed staff to add a parking requirement exemption for ADUs in neighborhoods with adequate free street parking, while ensuring it won’t impair emergency vehicle access.

After a brief break in the discussion to allow staff to make some changes to the language as directed by council, city staff returned with a few changes.

Regarding the parking concerns, staff added the language for an exemption if “the ADU is located on a lot within 100 feet of free on-street parking, in a neighborhood with adequate on-street parking supply, and does not degrade the existing emergency vehicle access as determined by the city.”

It was important to include language pointing out that it doesn’t degrade the existing emergency vehicle access, Dupuis noted. If the addition of the ADU degrades it further then the staff has the jurisdiction to deny it, she added. 

The final ordinance listed that parking exemptions include that no parking shall be required for any of the following or in any of the following circumstances:

–In connection with the construction of JADU.

–In connection with the construction of a converted ADU.

–The ADU is deed restricted as an affordable housing unit.

–The ADU is an ADA compliant housing unit.

–The ADU is located within one-half mile walking distance of public transit or within the Downtown Specific Plan area.

–The ADU is located within a structure listed on the California Register of Historic Resources or the city’s historic register.

–The ADU is located on a property within a locked gate community.

–On-street parking permits are required but not offered to the occupant of the ADU.

–A car share vehicle is located within one block of the ADU.

In another revision regarding nonconformities, staff added that “conversions or reconstruction of legal nonconforming structures to ADUs or JADUs shall not be required to correct nonconforming zoning conditions. Conversions of legal nonconforming structures shall be required to meet all current building, electrical and fire code standards.”

This would allow reconstruction to occur and maintain its nonconformance, Kim explained. 

The state mandates are tough to follow in a city like Laguna Beach, said Cory Engle, member of the Housing and Human Services Committee member and vice-chair of the ADU subcommittee. The committee supports the ordinance, he said. 

It is a frustrating problem that the state law doesn’t require that spaces be replaced if a garage is converted, Engle admitted, but if they try to limit it too much, it likely wouldn’t be approved by the state because it would discriminate against ADUs.

“We wring our hands,” he said. 

If parking is allowed on the street and the worry is regarding emergency vehicle access, one car defines that width, he noted. Whether it’s one car or 10 cars parked, the width needed by that emergency vehicle is defined, Engle explained. To control it, there needs to be regulations. 

Engle said the staff’s change was a great addition and the language works well. 

“This is a great ordinance,” Engle said. “It threads the needle between the state requirements and recognizing the community and what our needs are.”

There has been a lot of collaboration and productive discussions that led to this, he added. 

Other speakers supported the ordinance, noting that it meets state mandates but is still homeowner friendly. 

While other commenters raised a number of concerns, including parking issues, traffic congestion, the number of restrictions, exceeding the state mandates and considering it affordable housing when they likely won’t be affordable. 

Some members of council also mentioned the price of renting potential ADUs, which could be $2,000, was not exactly affordable. It fills the “moderate” housing numbers, staff noted. 

“Obviously the goal here is to create more units, I get it and that’s what Sacramento wants to do and needs to happen around the state,” Whalen noted, but looking at the numbers and estimated income needed to afford the rent, “these are certainly not affordable units.”


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