Laguna panel finds no easy answers in trying to update rules for accessory dwelling units

Laguna panel finds no easy answers in trying to update rules for accessory dwelling units
The Laguna Beach Planning Commission on Wednesday directed city staff to return in November with graphic examples of how much space accessory dwelling units, such as this one-bedroom apartment in Glendale, cover on lots. (File Photo)

Changes in state law that began in January were supposed to make it easier for cities to provide accessory dwelling units, also known as second residential units.

Developing rules for these independent living units, which can be attached or detached from a primary residence, proved anything but smooth Wednesday night as the Laguna Beach Planning Commission wrestled with myriad factors in trying to give city staff members direction so they can eventually return with a revised ordinance.


Commissioners voted for staff to return on Nov. 15 with graphic examples of varying unit and lot sizes to get a visual idea of how much space units would cover.

Accessory dwelling units are independent living facilities that have their own kitchens and restrooms.


Laguna's current ordinance restricts accessory dwelling units on lots of at least 6,000 square feet. Most commissioners said they favored either lowering the required square footage or eliminating lot-size restrictions altogether.

Under the city's current code, a second residential unit cannot exceed 640 square feet and not cover more than 7% of a lot, a city staff report said.

Staff presented commissioners with various scenarios if the minimum lot size was reduced to 5,000 square feet and varying percentages, such as 8% and 10%, were applied.

Commissioner Ken Sadler said he preferred one of staff's options that set the maximum ADU coverage area to 10% of the lot with a maximum unit size of 750 square feet.

"We're trying to promote additional housing — whether it's affordable or not," Sadler said. "I'm leaning toward being less restrictive — going with a reduced size of 4,000 square feet and allowing the larger size to bump up from 7% to 10%.

"I don't think that difference in size [640 to 750 square feet] is that huge of an increase that it's going to make a large impact."

State law waives parking requirements for accessory dwelling units under certain conditions, such as if a unit lies within a half-mile of public transit, or if the unit is part of an existing primary residence or an existing accessory structure.

Commissioners waned back-and-forth on whether public transit should refer to stops for Orange County Transportation Authority buses, or whether the city's mainline buses and trolleys should also be considered.

Some commissioners leaned more toward the OCTA stops at this stage, claiming they are well-established compared to Laguna's trolleys and mainline buses, whose routes and times have changed in the last couple of years as the city experiments with its public transportation offerings.

Other commissioners wondered how many Laguna residents ride OCTA buses, indicating that may not be a satisfactory substitute for waiving parking requirements.

The reason Laguna and other cities are discussing this issue is because Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed Assembly Bill 2299 from Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) and Senate Bill 1069 by Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont).

The goal of the new legislation is making it easier to develop affordable housing options for family members, students, seniors, in-home care providers and disabled persons.

Even though Laguna has not updated its ordinance to jibe with state law, the city has taken the new rules into account when processing accessory dwelling unit applications, Community Development Director Greg Pfost told the commission.

"We approved an ADU in 2017 that exempted a parking requirement because of state law," Pfost said.

Twitter: @AldertonBryce