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.


quillpena May 25, 2011 @ 10:55 p.m.

It's fortunate we have watchdogs like you keeping us abreast of these issues that would normally fly beneath the radar. Your passion is admirable.


mridolf May 26, 2011 @ 4:45 a.m.

I lived in a Huffplex (my name) for a year while attending San Diego State. It was cheap and relatively close to school. I learned, after moving in, that at some time in the past, the city had allowed apartments to be built where there was once a single home, albeit a decent sized one. I was told that city ordinances required that any apartment with 12 units or more required a resident manager. So, this builder, named Huffman (he left 'built by Huffman' stickers inside all the bathroom cabinets) went to all the homeowners in the area and offered to build an 11 unit apartment building on their lot, if they were willing to demolish their house. Low and behold, the neighborhood became crowded and unattractive. I may have been willing to rent there (once), but I swore I would never buy in those areas. Parking is atrocious, stray animals and stray people roam the streets; just plain unattractive. And if you let these places be built in your neighborhood, your property values will drop. I guarantee it. Like filling your street with a bunch of ironwork covered windows and doors. This sounds like the same thing.


SurfPuppy619 May 26, 2011 @ 10:38 a.m.

I was told that city ordinances required that any apartment with 12 units or more required a resident manager.

It is actually a state law and the unit threshhold is 16, 16 or above requires an onsite manager.

Huffman built most of the apartments in Northpark, City Heights and many of the areas surrounding those communities, his nephew (??)Rex Huffman has been a local commercial broker in SD for 25 years or so.


quillpena May 26, 2011 @ 12:10 p.m.

This Huffman sounds like a real rascal, and an arrogant one too.


Catherine Darragh May 28, 2011 @ 11:59 a.m.

Congratulations to the Planning Commission in its effort to change the Companion Unit regulations. Eliminating the "double lot size" ; allowing concurrent building of both units (cost-effective); the parking and owner occupancy requirements are all realistic, sensible and protective recommendations to make the rules workable. There has been a draft of these changes sitting dormant since 2007 waiting for a Council President to put it on the Council's Agenda. Let's hope Council President Tony Young will move on this issue very soon. There is a new mix on the Council smart enough to realize that mini-dorms and granny flats are not comparable, that the city won't be flooded with "granny flat" permits and ruin residential neighborhoods, that these units count toward the state-required affordable units quota, and that re-assessments on these building additions can add to the city's shrinking coffers. Speaking of state-required quotas, think of all the thousands of illegal "granny flats" which could actually be counted to give a more realistic picture of San Diego's housing affordability quotient. The information on the website, San Diego Issues, is outdated. It is interesting to note that many cities have progressed in their thinking since then and have promoted ADU's as a way to solve housing issues for a depressing economy and changing demography. Portland has gone so far as to eliminate fees for three years on ADU's. Seattle experimented by allowing ADU's in certain communities and has now expanded its reach because of acceptance by its voters. Santa Cruz is nationally recognized for its ADU program. If regulations are required, then at least make them ones that are workable.


historymatters Aug. 2, 2011 @ 11:34 p.m.

tradinlady, you seem to be lobbying for the building industry on this. This law spells disaster and it does not help the "poor" in any way. It turns these neighborhoods into ghettos which inevitably leads to crime and apathy. These neighborhoods could truly be redeveloped" but just drive up and down El Cajon Blvd and you will see the BIA has no CLUE how to "fix blight" as they continue to take tax dollars and build blight.


bilsonmiles Aug. 3, 2012 @ 11:39 p.m.

It is going to get really populated. I personally do not agree to this matter in my opinion.

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Dirae Aug. 18, 2012 @ 4:10 a.m.

I think this matter requires further studies. It should not be done if the welfare of many people is at risk. Sandra


frenksbrown Aug. 21, 2012 @ 9:27 p.m.

This is going to benefit the middle class family as they cannot afford a house. I believe there are both advantages and disadvantages regarding this matter.

Frenks Brown


dwbat Dec. 19, 2013 @ 3:27 p.m.

RE: "700 square feet can easily be a 3 bedroom unit." Maybe that's true in TJ! But 700 sq. ft. is not enough for three bedrooms. Have you ever rented (or even seen) a 3-br. apartment?


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