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Planning Commission Unanimously Approves "Granny Flats" But Are "Granny Flats" Just Code For Condos and Mini-Dorms
In an article enthusiastically titled "Hey, Now Grandma Can Move In" the Voice of San Diego describes a law change approved last week by San Diego Planning Commission to allow many San Diego neighborhoods to build granny flats in single family home areas.
The word "granny flat" conjures images of quaint San Francisco Victorians split into multiple units so that moderate income residents can afford an apartment in an expensive city. It sounds like a great idea, but when you look at the language of this new law San Diego is passing the results will be anything but charming or quaint.
This law provides clear incentives for speculative development in some of San Diego's most historic neighborhoods and it provides clear incentives for landlords to build controversial mini-dorms in areas close to college campus'. Essentially the result will be hideous banal monstrosities like the Huffmans all around San Diego.
Here is a quote from VOSD detailing the new language of the law:
"The amendments would remove the double lot size requirement, and also allow a granny flat — formally known as a companion unit — to be built at the same time as a primary residence, which is not currently allowed. It would leave in place some rules, like a requirement that one off-street parking space be available for each bedroom in the unit."
I cannot stress enough how important and key the phrase "at the same time as a primary residence" is. What does that mean if you are building 2 brand new units "at the same time"? It means you are demolishing the existing buildings plain and simple.
They want you to think this is simply the addition of a small 400 square foot addition in the backyard with one resident but the law doesn't facilitate that at all: quite the contrary. First of all, the unit can be as large as 700 square feet which is HUGE for a granny flat. I live comfortably in a 500 square foot 1 bedroom. 700 square feet can easily be a 3 bedroom unit. Since when does granny get a 3 bedroom unit?
Clearly this is not for granny. This is for speculative builders that have been trying to find a way into San Diego's most protected and valuable neighborhoods like South Park and now they got it withvirtually no input from the citizens. Now a developer will come in and buy a small single story craftsman and bulldoze it. Why would he bulldoze it you wonder rather than simply adding a small granny flat?
Well 1 because the granny flat is not small, its 700 feet which is the size of many of these single family residences to begin with and 2 because the lots are small which means 2 stories is necessary to maximize floor area. So it will be financially beneficial for him to just toss the existing 100 year old structure rather than to build a new granny flat around it.
If this was truly about "granny flats" it would require the structures not be permitted "at the same time" and it would certainly not be 700 square feet.
Other cities seemed to be hip to the notion that this was an idea that could easily be exploited so lets see what they did to ensure the granny flats were in fact "granny flats".
"In Carlsbad, the city's affordable housing, or inclusionary, ordinance as it is known, required no proof from homeowners that their second units were being rented out at affordable levels. But that all changed two years ago when regulations were amended to require income certification of renters of the granny flats. Not surprisingly, no developer has built the second units since then, said Debbie Fountain, housing and redevelopment director. Over the last five years, nearly 200 second units have been built in Carlsbad, the great majority of which were done in new subdivisions, according to Fountain. "Prior to 2000, it was seen as an asset and developers were having good luck selling them," she added. "Now I think we'll see very few. We've always had the philosophy we shouldn't put too many restrictions on them because they're naturally affordable because they're under 640 square feet. "By tightening the restrictions, we made it clear they weren't the favored child anymore." / Union-Tribune
"In Escondido the City Council adopted new requirements that would make it much harder for homeowners to build second units on their property. The new regulations were born out of concerns from neighbors that second dwellings would promote increased density and hence more traffic and parking problems. Escondido Councilwoman June Rady stated, "We tightened our ordinance so it's intended to house a parent or grandmother who needs assistance. That's why they're called granny flats. What was happening was people were building these second units and renting them for income. We as individual jurisdictions need to control our own land use destinies. I object to the state overriding our decisions." "
So there you have it. The way this law is written it will definitely be exploited and abused and it is intentionally being written that way. So are we going to be naive and accept it or are we going to demand Council amends the language in a way that ensures the units are 1: going to low income residents, or 2: are going to family members of the people living in the primary residence. It would be easy for them to place some language in the law that could require if the owner wanted to build a granny flat he had to actually live there, and they could easily change the allowable size to something that actually indicates a granny flat like 400 square feet.
This is undoubtedly a recipe for disaster in historic neighborhoods and in college areas where owners often rent their primary residence to college students and are only interested in maximizing profits and not ensuring any sort of quality of life.
This is an incredibly important issue that is receiving little press or attention yet will have a profound impact on San Diego. It is suspicious that the 5 Planning Commissioners voted unanimously without expressing any concern over the language or how this will be abused. It is another case of the City using deceptive language to serve the best interests of the developers and not the people.
Please write your Council members immediately and demand they stop this developer giveaway.