City Council OKs first reading of accessory dwelling units ordinance with aim to gain more local control

SCV housing Bobby Block /The Signal

The production of accessory dwelling units has ramped up across California with the passage of new laws in response to the statewide housing crisis, and it’s been no different in Santa Clarita. 

Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, commonly known as granny flats, are attached or detached, small residences on the same property of a single-family home. Typically, they are garages or back houses that have been converted. 

The city of Santa Clarita’s approval of ADUs has significantly increased over the past seven years. In 2013, only two ADUs were approved. By 2017, a total of 20 were approved and, by 2020, that number had more than tripled with about 75, according to city Assistant Planner Andy Olson, who called the rise in ADUs a “citywide phenomenon” during a Planning Commission meeting last month. At least 75 new ADUs are expected to be permitted this year, city officials added. 

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. Santa Clarita City Council members opposed these, saying the laws weaken local land-use control. 

The city is now looking to attain as much control of ADU development as possible within the boundaries of state law while also working to meet its state-mandated number of housing units. 

On Tuesday, Santa Clarita City Council members unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance to make text amendments to the city’s development code on ADUs, which would not increase the number of units permitted but would allow the city to control the following: 

  • Minimum and maximum sizes. 
  • 16-foot height limit.
  • Architecture and construction materials.
  • A requirement to rent units for longer than 30 days, which is the maximum allowed under state law. 
  • Parking requirements.
  • An owner-occupancy requirement for lots with junior accessory dwelling units, meaning the owner must live in the JADU or the primary home. 

The units would count for the city’s state-mandated number of housing units, which is estimated to be around 8,000 by 2029, according to Mayor Bill Miranda. The city cannot mandate that ADUs be affordable, according to City Attorney Joseph Montes.  

While council members unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance, some voiced frustration over the city’s limited control over ADU development. 

“I understand ADUs when having to take care of our seniors or fragile people but this is just basically taking every neighborhood and throwing it away,” said Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste. “What happens when you have three households in each house? Where do the cars go? Where do you park them? The garages are gone.” 

Miranda mirrored Weste’s commentary. 

“People come to Santa Clarita, because they want to get away from a lot of the density, they want to get away from a lot of traffic, they want to be able to park their cars, either in their garages or in front of their homes,” he said. “And basically, Sacramento was saying, ‘Not really.’” 

The second reading to the ordinance is scheduled for Jan. 26 and, if approved, the amendments would take effect 30 days thereafter with a review from the state, according to Ben Jarvis, an associate planner with the city’s Planning Division. 

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