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Large package of housing reforms, including changes to granny flat rules, heading to San Diego council

A sweeping package of housing incentives and regulation changes is heading to the San Diego City Council for approval this winter.

The package includes seven new incentives to spur construction, a small rollback of city rules governing granny flats, and regulations that would soften a controversial state law that allows up to four units on many single-family lots.

The package, which Mayor Todd Gloria calls “Homes for All of Us,” got unanimous approval Thursday from the council’s Land Use and Housing Committee. The full council is expected to vote next month.

“This package contains critical updates to our city regulations that will allow more housing to be built for people of all income levels,” said Councilmember Vivian Moreno, chair of the committee. “As housing prices and rents continue to rise, we must take action to ensure that San Diegans have housing opportunities that accommodate their needs.”

Gloria has focused on the local changes he would like to make to Senate Bill 9 and the new incentives he is proposing, which include allowing housing projects to be built in conjunction with new libraries and fire stations on public land.

But the rollback of rules governing granny flats — formally called accessory dwelling units — has gotten the most attention from San Diego residents.

They say the city went too far in November 2020 when it approved what are believed to be the loosest rules for accessory dwelling unit construction in the state.

San Diego allows one “bonus” ADU for every rent-restricted ADU a property owner builds, an unusual incentive that could allow several ADUs on properties that previously had just one single-family home.

A well-organized group called Neighbors for a Better San Diego has been lobbying aggressively for months against the bonus program and other elements of the city’s ADU policy.

But city planning officials are proposing only a small rollback of ADU policies and essentially no changes to the bonus ADU program. The council’s land use committee endorsed that approach Thursday.

Councilmember Chris Cate said San Diego’s housing crisis is severe enough to warrant aggressive measures like the city’s loose ADU rules.

“I’m proud that this council and the past council have taken a proactive approach to addressing our housing crisis,” he said.

Councilmember Joe LaCava expressed more sympathy for the frustrated residents, who are primarily single-family homeowners in the city’s more suburban neighborhoods.

“I agree with a lot of the issues raised by neighbors,” he said. “This is going to be painful — let’s not kid ourselves. We’re talking about a fundamental change in how many of our neighborhoods were built.”

But LaCava said the proposals for tighter restrictions on ADUs would slow down city efforts to solve the housing crisis too significantly for him to support them.

Heidi Vonblum, the city’s interim planning director, said San Diego is launching two detailed studies that may prompt adjustments to ADU rules and some other housing policies when the studies are completed in late 2022.

One study will be an economic analysis of how the ADU incentives have affected developer decisions, while the other will analyze and possibly overhaul city incentives to developers who build housing projects near transit lines.

The small ADU rollback approved by the committee Thursday requires larger separations between ADUs and property lines, the planting of more trees on properties with ADUs, and the imposition of fees on ADU developers in some cases.

Developers, who are now exempt from paying fees for nearby infrastructure projects, would still be exempt on the first two ADUs they build on a particular property. But they would have to pay such fees on every additional ADU of at least 750 square feet.

On SB9, the state law that allows property owners to build up to four units on many single-family lots, Gloria is proposing some local modifications.

Property owners who take advantage of SB9, which took effect Jan. 1, can’t also use any of the city’s ADU incentives. In addition, they must provide a parking spot and pay developer fees for the third and fourth units they build on a single-family lot.

The new housing incentives proposed by Gloria include a regulation change that would allow new fire stations, libraries and other civic projects to include housing units as part of the project.

Other proposed incentives include making it easier for business to build on-site housing for their workers, incentives for developers who build larger “family” units with three or more bedrooms, and incentives for developers who build units geared for the disabled.

Gloria is also proposing changes that make it easier for developers to use the city’s density bonus, comply with the inclusionary housing program and build residential projects in commercial zones.



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