By Sara Libby.
Granny flats – small housing units that often exist in the form of converted garages or freestanding structures in homeowners’ backyards – were a fixture throughout San Diego County even before Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last year that made them easier to build.
The law, written by Sen. Bob Wieckowski, essentially reduces the authority of local governments over the granny flat building process.
But so far only seven of the 19 jurisdictions in San Diego County have updated their granny flat ordinances, and there is still confusion about what the law means for cities, architects and homeowners.
Wieckowski and Greg Nickless of the state’s housing and community development department tried to address some of those concerns at a conference in San Diego on Monday.
One area of pushback has been parking requirements, Nickless said. For instance, some cities still want to require homeowners who convert a garage into a granny flat to construct a new parking garage as a replacement. The law tossed out such requirements.
“It has been 30 years where we deal with local jurisdictions that say, ‘You don’t understand, but we’ve got a parking problem.’ I understand. I know you have a parking problem, but we have a housing problem,” Wieckowski said.
California ranks next to last in the country in housing units per capita, according to stats provided by Wieckowski’s office. State lawmakers are treating the construction of granny flats – and lowering other local barriers to construction – as remedies to the housing crisis.
“We’ve heard time and time again that we need to decrease the cost of new housing production, and we need to create more naturally affordable homes for California—[granny flats] check both of those boxes at the same time,” said Sen. Toni Atkins, who co-wrote the granny flat bill.
While the law simplified the process of building a granny flat, onerous fees may be keeping many homeowners from actually building them.
The fees for building a granny flat in San Diego are comparable to fees required for building a 20,000 square-foot home, said Sarah Jarman, a consultant for the San Diego City Council’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee.
On Nov. 8, the committee will vote on whether to waive some granny flat fees, which would reduce the total from more than $15,000 to about $2,000. That does not include other fees the city has no control over, such as fees from private water companies.
Though applications for granny flat permits have increased in San Diego from 12 applications in 2016 to 48 this year, the city is far from its goal of 6,000 new granny flats in the next decade.