Accessory Dwelling Units–Also Known as “Granny Units”–And What They Mean

If all of the houses in Los Altos added a “Granny Unit” and leased it out to two people, it could just about double our population. But these rentals, while increasing housing in our city, would not increase our revenue base. Who would pay for the increase in needed services?
Among the major topics on Affordable Housing are the lack of an ordinance for “Accessory Dwelling Units” (also called ADUs and”Granny Units”) and one to fully implement the California Density Bonus law. For accessory dwelling units, new state law made existing zoning and development requirements null and void as of mid-January 2017. A revised ordinance to comply with state law has been reviewed by the Design Review Commission and the Planning and Transportation Commission. As proposed, accessory units (attached or detached) would be allowed on lots of 10,000 square feet or greater. Additional changes allow conversions/additions to garages and conversions of existing detached units (pool houses for example) in some circumstances.  The staff report with the proposed ordinance changes as of May 9 can be found here. The petition below is circulating that calls for implementing “Granny Units” in a sensible manner.

Use Discretion in approving Granny Units

Recent changes to California law require our city council to modify the current codes for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs, sometimes called “granny units”). Mandatory changes reduce barriers, streamline approval and expand capacity for ADU development. Council retains some discretion in how the new laws are implemented.

We urge Council to use that discretion to make prudent modifications that allow residents to build ADUs while respecting the sense of openness and privacy that our residents value.

We urge Council to:

 Say YES to allowing ADUs within or attached to a home on lots of 10,000 square feet or more, provided those units meet our current code requirements for floor area, lot coverage and setbacks. (Current zoning allows these on lots of at least 13,000 square feet.)

 Say YES to allowing detached ADUs on parcels of 12,000 square feet or more, provided those units meet our current code requirements for floor area, lot coverage and setbacks. (Current zoning allows these on lots of at least 15,000 square feet.)

 Say NO to building any ADUs – within, attached or detached – larger than 800 square feet on any sized lot.

 Say NO to converting existing “accessory structures” ( pool houses, garages, sheds, etc.) that

  • do not meet our current code requirements for floor area and lot coverage and

  • do not meet the legal setbacks for the main house. Current zoning specifies very narrow setbacks for accessory structures, e.g., as little as 2.5 feet from a property line. An ADU that close to neighbors’ property would significantly intrude on their privacy.

If state law compels the city to allow some such conversions within the setbacks, limit such conversions to the largest lots (15,000 square feet).

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Another means to influence city government is to write an email to the City Council at  Specific language can be “I support the ADU petition calling for implementing ADUs with discretion and with common sense setbacks and urge you not to support converting existing accessory structures like pool houses and sheds that have virtually no setbacks. I urge the council to keep detached ADU’s on parcels of at least 12,000 square feet or more to prevent high density in our neighborhoods.”