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Jerry Brown Gets Pushy with LA City Council … On Granny Flats Rules

EASTSIDER-It’s not often that the great State of California intrudes in the LA City Council’s wholesale slaughter of our neighborhoods, particularly by way of land use regulation. So it was a great surprise to our elected officials when not one, but two, Granny Unit (also known as accessory dwelling units and granny flats) bills, passed the legislature and are sitting on Governor Brown’s desk: AB 2299, and a companion bill, SB1069. 

I won’t get into the details of the bills here, since they are designed to work together and are technical, but if you want to track their histories, there is a great (free) resource available to all of us at the California Legislature’s bill tracking website here.      

Anyhow, back to the plot. A few months ago, I wrote in CityWatch about some of the 15 LA Planning Department proposed ordinances, particularly the emergency repeal of the City’s existing granny unit policy, as well as the grandfathering in of all existing illegal granny units. 

Clearly the Planning Department’s proposal to simply repeal the existing rules was a pretext to let the loose default State rules apply, and allow virtually everyone in LA to build up to a 1200 foot “auxiliary dwelling unit.” And, since we know that no one in LA City Planning can even put finger to keyboard without orders from the Council, the proposed emergency ordinance represented City Hall’s desire to simply bring in a Wild West Show of building -- even if the character and infrastructure of our residential neighborhoods go down the toilet. 

Step one was for the Council to “grandfather” in all of the existing granny units, proving that it does indeed pay to break the law. If you read the exact language of the new ordinance (Council File 14-0057-S8), it even includes anyone who has a building permit, or for that matter, even proposed plans. All this was authored by none other than our own Mitch O’Farrell. We in northeast LA thank you bunches, Mitch. The term “grandfather” now has new meaning. 

These events provoked a huge pushback from owners of single family homes in most neighborhoods, so the Council tried to finesse matters by approving the grandfathering first, and then putting the rest on hold while they tried to figure out rules that would mirror the loose state regulations -- all while appearing that they were saving us from those incompetent planners who wanted to simply repeal all the rules. Sure. 

Then along came Assembly Bill 2299 (Bloom D-Santa Monica) and Senate Bill 1069 (Wieckowski D-Fremont), both making substantive amendments to the very loose default State law regarding the permitting of granny units. This “affordable housing” adjunct is of huge statewide concern. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t think there is any affordable housing in California, unless you want to live in the San Joaquin Valley.

This was one of those “while Rome burns” moments. While the LA City Council fiddled, both bills passed the state legislature and are currently sitting in front of Governor Brown waiting for his signatures. And all this because of the hastily rammed through motions of opposition by the LA City Council. 

Suddenly, the LA City Council wasn’t so sure about defaulting to state rules in the face of substantial changes to those rules. 

UPDATE! As I was writing this article, Jerry Brown signed both bills on Tuesday of this week. So much for the clout of LA in Sacramento. To give you a taste of what’s in store for us state wide, I can do no better than quote from the two bills’ authors. 

Wieckowski’s statement says in part: 

“Removing the most egregious obstacles to building these units will help to increase the supply of affordable housing in California and allow more people to remain in the communities they call home,” said Wieckowski, a member of the Senate’s Transportation and Housing Committee. “SB 1069 returns more power to homeowners and reins in some of the enormous fees and requirements levied by local agencies. Governor Brown’s action will lead to more housing, more jobs and shorter commutes.”  

And from Bloom’s announcement upon signature of AB 2299: 

“AB 2299 requires local governments to adopt accessory dwelling unit ordinances. Also known as second units or “granny flats”, ADUs are a creative affordable housing option often used by college students, elderly parents, or disabled individuals who need to live close to their families. Unfortunately, individuals who want to build these units are often caught in a web of cost-prohibitive local regulations that discourage the construction of ADUs. AB 2299 will ease and streamline current statewide regulations for ADUs by permitting local governments to adopt ADU ordinances and by adding specifications for what is required of those ordinances. These specifications include prohibiting the need for a passageway, increasing the permissible size of the units, and eliminating some parking requirements.” 

Now What? 

It seems pretty clear that Los Angeles has lost much of its ability to regulate granny units at all, and the Council is going to have to go back to the drawing board over the entire issue of what, if any, authority they have left. 

The actions of the City Council demonstrate what I am forced to call legislative incompetence. They had literally years of opportunity to sit down and adopt reasonable rules and regulations for the building of granny units in LA City. You know, balancing the integrity of residential neighborhoods with homeowners’ rights to maximize the use of their property and make a few bucks. 

Yet they did little until faced with an adverse court decision. They were ready to just pass the buck in favor of the State of California’s regulations, evidently unaware that the State has the same ability to legislate changes to their granny unit regulations that the City does -- and preemptive ones at that. 

Whether these bills help or hurt our local neighborhoods is a largely unanswered question. There is no doubt that both bills make absolutely clear that the ability to build granny units is a legislative priority in the State of California. Furthermore, the bills are designed specifically to limit local governments’ ability to restrict accessory dwelling unit construction. 

It seems to me that by being cute, by fooling around while there was still an opportunity to come up with reasonable regulations before the State stepped in, our glorious City Council has once again shot itself in the foot. And it is not clear how preemptive legislation is going to work in LA, an area that comprises close to 40% of the population of the State of California, an area suffering from crumbling infrastructure, densification and the rapid transformation of the very character of its neighborhoods. 

Stay tuned.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.