Long Beach moved closer to instituting some local controls over the construction of so-called “granny flats” as the city council adopted new guidelines that would both limit the size of secondary housing units built and limit which areas of the city they could be built in.
The response by the city came some 10 months after state legislators passed a duo of bills that streamlined the approval process of building accessory dwelling units (ADU) in an attempt to tackle California’s growing housing crisis. Without a local ordinance, Long Beach would have been subject to those state guidelines which would have allowed construction of units of up to 1,200 square feet and mandates to require parking.
After hours of discussion, the council amended city staff’s original proposal and adopted a maximum ADU size of 800 square feet or 50 percent of the existing home (whichever is smaller), a requirement that those lots electing to construct an ADU to maintain 30 percent open space as well as requirements for parking to be replaced or provided in parking impacted areas and the coastal zone.
Without an ordinance, the city would have little jurisdiction over ADU construction in the city.
“Long Beach’s 1988 granny flat ordinance was deemed null and void because it was not in compliance with new state legislation,” said Carrie Tai, a planning officer for the city’s development services department. “Until adoption of a new local ordinance only state law applies which means we are required to approve them under state law.”
The ordinance would allow for single family homeowners with lot sizes that are 5,200 square feet or above to build ADUs on their properties. The 5,200 square foot mark was increased from 4,8000 square feet, which was the city’s current zoning for ADUs, which leaves about 70 percent of the city’s single lots eligible.
Council discussion largely focused on the size of the ADU and what lot size would make a house eligible to build one. Council members supported the idea of creating more housing as the state and city both grapple with shortages that are seeing prices for homes and rents skyrocket, but they also tried to balance that out with the impacts on their neighborhoods.
Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo proposed the shift to a larger lot size requirement, something that whittled down the percentage of potential eligible homes from 87 percent to about 70 percent. City staff is expected to come back next year with a report on how many permits were pulled to construct ADUs on these eligible lots.
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson inquired how this would impact illegal garage conversions—if built to code they would be grandfathered in—like the one he had to demo when he purchased his home in North Long Beach, adding that it was important not to implement too much red tape as it could lead to dangerous results.
“I don’t want to be overburdened by process or fees that diminish someone’s ability,” Richardson said. “The reality is that someone is going to do this, and some may do it because they have the capital, they have the space and it’s an asset and it’s an amenity. But some people are doing this as a necessity and we’ve seen the tragedies that can happen when people are forced to do this somewhat underground.”
The state’s guidelines prohibit city’s from requiring parking restrictions for homeowners who do build ADUs if their homes are located within one-half mile of a transit stop, something that applies to nearly every home in the city. However, the legislation does allow for cities to require parking in impacted neighborhoods like Long Beach’s shore-adjacent neighborhoods and in the downtown area.
For those in the coastal zone or in parking impacted areas an ADU of 640 square feet or less would require one parking space to be created while anything over 640 square feet would require two spaces. Outside of these zones no parking requirements will be enforced.
The units would also require that the owner live on the property and would prohibit the ADU from being sold separate of the original home and its use as a short-term rental.
Members of the public largely agreed with the restrictions put in place by the council through this new ordinance, especially those in the parking impacted areas of the city. Maureen Neeley, president of the Belmont Heights Community Association, said that the city’s guidelines could help ensure that the city does not become over-developed while simultaneously providing more affordable units for those in need.
“The smaller size should translate into more affordable housing, especially for young adults just starting out, new graduates getting on their feet, even for older residents who want to downsize but still live in their neighborhoods,” Neeley said of the 800-square-foot limit. “So these make sense.”
The city is in the midst of a contentious debate over its land use element which aims to increase density to account for projected population growth over the next few decades, however, like the state, it currently lacks sufficient vacancies to slow the surge in rent and home prices. The state lacks an estimated 1.5 million affordable housing units and granny flats have been seen as an avenue toward tackling a part of that problem as well as the county’s growing homeless population.
Costs associated with building additions like granny flats will likely prevent a surge of construction overnight, but as Eighth District Councilman Al Austin said, housing is and will be a topic of concern for Southern California for the foreseeable future.
“We have a responsibility as a city to help solve this crisis as well,” Austin said. “I know we’re looking at other avenues, we’re studying our land use element, housing is going to be a key issue of discussion not only tonight but for many years to come.”