The Los Altos City Council recently adopted updates to accessory dwelling unit (ADU) and accessory structure regulations. Contrary to claims recently published in the Town Crier’s “Other Voices” column and letters to the editor, the city has held numerous public meetings to discuss the proposed changes and gather public comments over a 13-month period.
The housing crisis is not a new issue, but it is a complex one. The city council has committed to exploring ways to increase affordable housing. ADUs provide an opportunity to expand affordable housing in California cities, and the state has taken away some of the city’s ability to regulate ADUs.
In response to recently adopted state legislation, the city set out to update its ADU regulations. The goal was to bring them into compliance with state laws while also balancing regulations against our own goals and policies in the general plan – specifically the housing element, which encourages the development of ADUs and commits to studying a reduction of the minimum lot size required for an ADU.
The city council held six public meetings between May 2017 and June 2018 to discuss proposed ADU regulation amendments prior to adoption. The council and the Planning Commission held an additional seven public meetings between November 2017 and June 2018 to review and adopt amendments to the city’s Accessory Structure Ordinance to address concerns related to the new ADU regulations.
The amended ADU and accessory structure ordinances include requirements that establish:
• A new accessory structure must comply with a daylight plane on the side and rear property lines to reduce the perceived height from a neighboring property.
• A 35 percent lot rear yard coverage limit to reduce the overall size of an accessory structure located within a rear yard space.
• A size limit of 50 percent of the main house for ADU (attached or detached) to ensure the ADU is clearly subordinate and accessory to the main house on a lot.
• An increased minimum setback for accessory structures in a rear yard from 2.5 feet to 5 feet.
Consistent with the general plan policy, the minimum lot sizes were evaluated, and a determination made that there should be no minimum lot size for ADUs given existing site development standards for single-family zone districts, which include minimum setback requirements, height limits, a floor-area ratio and lot coverage limitation. It should also be noted that the floor-area ratio for single-family districts was not changed and all ADUs and accessory structures count toward the limit, so any property that has used all of the allotted floor area for the main house cannot add a new ADU or accessory structure.
The city conducted a transparent and comprehensive process to adopt updated ADU and accessory structure regulations. The new regulations were developed to address the circumstances unique to Los Altos; they are an important part of the city’s effort to address critical housing needs.
Jon Biggs is community development director for the city of Los Altos.