Santa Clarita could soon have more control over accessory dwelling units

Santa Clarita City Hall, as pictured on Feb. 26. Watson/The Signal
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California law governs many aspects related to the development of accessory dwelling units in neighborhoods, also known as “granny flats,” but Santa Clarita could attain more local control on characteristics, such as height, architecture and parking, if a new measure is passed. 

The City Council is expected to discuss the measure early next year, following a unanimous vote by the Planning Commission on Tuesday.

Commissioners approved updates to the city’s development code, which included changing its dwelling-related terminology. The changes included a measure stating ADUs are subject to a new permit process, as well include development standards, such as size restrictions, parking and setback requirements — metrics the state currently sets limits on. The updates are intended to give the city the “maximum amount of local control possible” while complying with state law, according to the city agenda report. 

Ultimately, more control is the goal of the city, as state laws override city laws, according to Jason Crawford, economic development director for the city.

“Our hands are tied from what the state has decided,” he said. “The state only allows very narrow control for either cities or HOAs, and we’ve written this ordinance to exert the full amount of control that we are allowed by the state, which is not nearly the amount of control that we would like to have or that we have heard from (City) Council Development Committee that they would like to have. But it is the most that we can do under the state’s rules.”  

Mayor Pro Tem Bill Miranda, who is a member of the Development Committee and who represents Santa Clarita in the urban planning organization Southern California Association of Governments, said Thursday no one is in a better position to control ADUs than local government. 

“When you allow three ADUs in a lot, it changes the complexion of an entire neighborhood,” he said. “I think we have to have the ability on a per-instance case to be able to determine development in that area. The plus is the housing shortage. This helps create instant housing, but it’s also a good way of destroying neighborhoods.”

The city’s approval of ADUs has significantly increased over the past six years. In 2013, only two ADUs were approved. By 2017, a total of 20 were approved and, as of this year, that number has more than tripled, according to city Assistant Planner Andy Olson, who called the rise in ADU’s a “citywide phenomenon.” Much of the increases come after the passage of Assembly Bill 68 and Senate Bill 13 in 2019, which require the city to approve up to three units on single-family lots and allow the conversion of garages. The City Council opposed these, saying the laws weaken local land-use control. 

Planning commissioners reiterated the importance in the code reflecting that at least one parking space be required per ADU, as there is no limit on the number of ADUs per block that can be approved.  

“Parking is going to be a real big issue,” said Commissioner Renee Berlin. 

Commissioners also asked city staff to clarify certain definitions and statements in the updated code, such as the requirement that ADUs cannot be rented for a period of less than 30 days. 

A public hearing and the first reading of the proposed ordinance before the City Council is scheduled for Jan. 12, which would by followed by a second reading on Jan. 26. If council members approve the matter, the amendments would take effect Feb. 25. The state would then have to review the amendments, if council members adopt them. 

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