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Costa Mesa council to weigh new standards for developing ‘granny flats,’ plus options for city attorney position

During their first meeting of 2018, Costa Mesa City Council members Tuesday will take their first crack at suggested changes to local regulations governing development of accessory housing units — commonly referred to as “granny flats.”

Costa Mesa, like other cities throughout Orange County, is updating its codes to comply with recently passed state laws geared toward making it easier to build supplemental units that theoretically could help address the state’s housing crunch.

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The new standards up for the council’s review would allow development of accessory units — which can be freestanding structures, attached to a home or fashioned out of existing space such as a garage or master bedroom — on lots of at least 7,500 square feet in single-family areas.

Currently, the requirement is 8,500 square feet.

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Under the proposed revisions, granny flats could be built in some multifamily residential zones, where they aren’t allowed now.

In those areas, accessory units would be permitted on legal lots that existed as of March 16, 1992, and are 6,000 to 7,260 square feet — as long as the parcel is already developed with a single home.

Detached secondary units and those that are connected to a primary residence would be capped at 800 square feet. Attached units also would be limited to 50% of the existing living area.

Costa Mesa currently allows accessory units as large as 1,200 square feet.

The city Planning Commission voted in October to recommend that the council adopt the proposed standards.

City attorney role

At the request of Councilman John Stephens, the council also will discuss Tuesday whether to direct city staff to analyze options for filling Costa Mesa’s city attorney position.

The city has contracted with the law firm Jones & Mayer for those services since 2004. Tom Duarte, a partner in the firm, has been Costa Mesa’s city attorney since 2011.

“What I’d like to do is simply study if there is a more efficient and effective alternative for delivering city attorney services to the city of Costa Mesa,” Stephens said Friday.

Options include searching for another law firm to take over the responsibility, hiring an in-house employee to assume the role or seeking to make the city attorney an elected position, according to a staff report.

The council also could maintain the status quo, Stephens said.

Stephens said he’s concerned about the amount of money Costa Mesa spends on legal services from Jones & Mayer. The bill topped $2.5 million last fiscal year, the staff report states.

Stephens, an attorney himself, also said he’s “had some concerns about the level of service that we receive” from the firm.

Last month, for instance, Stephens strongly disagreed with Duarte’s analysis of whether the council could remove member Katrina Foley from her appointed role as mayor. Duarte said his initial opinion was that the council could take that action, but Stephens said he believes the move violated the municipal code.

The council — with Stephens and Foley opposed — voted to remove Foley from the post in favor of Sandy Genis.

Tuesday’s council meeting starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 77 Fair Drive.

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