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Santa Maria Council Backs Owner-Occupancy Requirements for Accessory Units

The Santa Maria City Council has decided to require owners to live on their properties if they want to have an accessory dwelling unit, with an eye to preserving traditional single-family residential neighborhoods.

In taking the action, council members rejected the recommendation from a divided Planning Commission that balked at requiring owners to live in one of the units due to concerns about property rights and other factors.

Two commissioners said an owner living on site would address tenant complaints quicker and provide oversight.

Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, have long been called "granny units," referring to small secondary residences attached to or near a single-family home.

The state recently adopted rules seeking to expand housing availability and urge agencies to allow ADUs, prompting cities and counties across California to tailor their own regulations.

Council members last week expressed concern that the rules crafted at the state level would create negative impacts in local neighborhoods.  

“With that I think it is our responsibility as City Council to protect the integrity of the city of Santa Maria because it’s not being protected at the state level,” Councilwoman Etta Waterfield said. 

“It’s going to make everything look like a bar scene from Star Wars, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid,” she added.

“I think this is a horrible law,” Councilman Michael Moats said, adding that people who chose to move into single-family residential neighborhoods don’t want increased density in their areas.

“I think we should obstruct it as much as we can, and I think we should make the most onerous restrictions on it so as to discourage people from doing it,” Moats said.  

The city law would restrict ADUs to one per lot, and require replacement parking if a garage is converted into an ADU. 

Councilman Mike Cordero, a retired police lieutenant, said parking problems in neighborhoods accounted for a significant number of complaints.

“I see it as a huge problem that we will have to endure for as long as ADUs exist in the community,” Cordero said, adding that he favored restrictions.

“I just think it’s going to be a nightmare,” he said.

Community members spoke in favor and against restrictions.

In a letter read by Mayor Alice Patino, retired firefighter Jack Owen Jr. said he favored owner-occupancy rules, adding that he has seen homes with a high number of residents.

“This ultra-high-density is very detrimental to the quality of life in Santa Maria,” he said.

But Ken Hough, from Santa Barbara County Action Network, urged leniency, noting a need for affordable housing. 

His board unanimously voted to support ADUs and to oppose regulations putting up barriers to the intent of the state law, Hough added.

The city's proposed regulations regarding parking could change, after City Attorney Gil Trujillo said he needed to research the issue.

The council could make changes before conducting a second reading of the ordinance, he added. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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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