Sunday, July 15 , 2018, 6:48 pm | Fair 76º

 
 
 
 

Local News

With Mixed Views, Public Weighs In on Locating ‘Granny Units’ in Santa Barbara’s High-Fire Zones

Former Santa Barbara Mayor Sheila Lodge is candid about her living situation. She lives on the Riviera and, while she is supportive of the state law to allow so-called “granny units,” she says those units don’t belong in high-fire zones like hers.

“I live in a bad neighborhood, the Riviera,” she said, referring to the wildfire risks. “I have had to evacuate four times, and that is why I passionately urge you to support the staff recommendation to avoid ADUs (accessory dwelling units) in the high-fire and extreme high-fire housing zone.”

During one recent fire, Lodge remembers a nearly mile-long traffic backup of residents fleeing the foothills.

“It is too easy for horrible things to happen,” she said.

The placement of accessory dwelling units is one of the issues the City of Santa Barbara is wrestling with as it tries to find ways to increase affordable housing opportunities. The city’s three-member Ordinance Committee tackled the matter at its meeting last Tuesday. Among the considerations are whether to allow junior accessory dwelling units and whether to permit them on the Riviera.

A new California law is forcing local governments to allow homeowners to build so-called “granny units” as a way to ease the state’s affordable-housing crisis. The idea is that the ADUs would open up housing opportunities to individuals, seniors and others who don’t need a large space to live.

Property owners, planning consultants and architects are in wide support of the new law because of the financial benefits it brings, but some neighborhood activists are concerned that more housing will ruin the character of the residential areas and create safety issues.

Several members of the public spoke at Tuesday’s committee meeting. They called on the panel, made up of Mayor Cathy Murillo and Council members Randy Rowse and Kristen Sneddon, the committee chairwoman, to consider the pros.

Architect Paul Zink took a viewpoint opposite of Lodge and urged the committee to allow junior accessory dwelling units in high-fire zones.

“We are trying to maintain our neighborhood character that we have worked so hard to achieve,” he said.

ADUs, he noted, already are in mass existence in fire zones and other parts of the city. He said homeowners have added exterior doors and kitchenettes to bedrooms all over town, and that granting official permission would simply legalize them and make them safer because firefighters would know about them.

“We definitely need the housing,” Zink said. “We already have the housing. It just doesn’t have the permit.”

He said not allowing the ADUs in the high-fire zones won’t stop the housing that already exists.

“People have been breaking this law since the 1970s,” Zink said. “There are a lot of rat-trap hokey housing that we have in our town that we pay $1,400 a month for because that’s reality.”

According to Zink, since ADUs still would need to receive code compliance approval, legalizing the housing would ensure proper electrical hookups.

Other commenters at the meeting called on the city to require that homeowners live on the property.

“Resident-owners understand and have a stake in the neighborhoods,” said Lindsey Baker, president of the League of Women Voters. “They will be right there should problems occur. An absentee landlord situation is not appropriate for a single-family area.”

The committee listened to about an hour of public comment at its meeting, and it plans to talk about an ordinance again this week.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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