5th time’s the charm: Planning Commission sends ADU amendment to Los Altos council

The Los Altos Planning Commission last week voted unanimously to recommend approval of amended text addressing accessory dwelling units in the city’s Municipal Code.

After commissioners discussed the changes at five meetings, the revisions now advance to the city council. 

The ADU updates, reviewed several times and finally deemed acceptable by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, aim to bring Los Altos’ zoning text into compliance with housing laws that took effect Jan. 1.

Planning services director Guido Persicone collaborated with City Attorney Jolie Houston, her staff and the commission on the draft ADU ordinance, outlining categories of ADUs and adding or redesigning a square-footage chart, daylight plane graphics and other elements.

In the final document approved at the June 18 commission meeting, Persicone recommended the Planning Commission request the city council reduce permit fees as a “positive step to show the state that Los Altos is serious about building ADUs and incentivizing them.” The proposal is compatible with the next round of the city’s Housing Element, he said.

In his research, Persicone discovered that cities such as Hillsborough and Half Moon Bay conduct annual, voluntary surveys that monitor the rent of ADUs. Similar tracking could give Los Altos’ Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) a boost, as a certain number of ADUs are required by the Department of Housing and Community Development each five-year housing cycle. Acknowledging Los Altos’ need for RHNA numbers, the majority of commissioners favored the idea. The survey will be paired with a mandatory inspection for regular recertification, supported by an annual inspection fee from property owners of $127.

The commission directed Persicone to ensure the amended text reflected maximum square footages of 850 for detached single-family ADUs and 1,200 for attached ADUs, expanded from previous requirements of 800 and 1,000, respectively.

The Department of Housing and Community Development nixed a few sections of the language suggested by staff and commissioners, such as adding a requirement that property owners submit a letter if they plan to convert a garage to an ADU, thus creating parking nonconformance. Persicone lamented that the state was overriding much of cities’ local land-use control. Commissioner Phoebe Bressack said a good product still came from their efforts, despite Housing and Community Development being “fairly obnoxious.”

“The purpose is to ensure compliance with state law,” Bressack said. “I think the piece that I really want to focus on isn’t only just complying with state law, but doing it in a manner that (is) the best way we can in reflecting the Los Altos community values.”

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