Architect Paul Zink speaks at Santa Barbara City Council meeting
Architect Paul Zink spoke in support of accessory dwelling units at Tuesday’s Santa Barbara City Council meeting. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Despite some personal and political differences between members of the Santa Barbara City Council, the panel united Tuesday night with a 5-0 vote in support of sweeping new regulations for accessory dwelling units, also known as granny units, the smaller structures built on existing residential properties. 

The council agreed to allow ADUs to be built in all residential areas, except the extreme foothill high-fire zones.

The council also approved a sliding-scale method for sizing, depending on the size of the homeowner’s lot, and decided that ADUs should be owner-occupied. 

In addition, the city will start placing yellow development notification signs in front of homes that have requested ADU building permits, to inform the neighborhood.

“We’ve worked so hard to get to this place,” Mayor Cathy Murillo said.

Tuesday’s meeting went smoother than the nearly four-hour episode on April 18, when Murillo and Councilman Randy Rowse voted against the indefinite owner-occupied covenant.

At the time, they wanted the requirement to sunset after 10 years, but they voted with the majority this week, recognizing that the ordinance needed five affirmative votes to pass.

The council currently only has six members, and Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon was forced by the City Attorney to recuse herself from the issue because she is a homeowner in the city’s high-fire zone.

Although the accessory dwelling unit regulations process got tangled by acronyms and attorneys, driving the debate was Santa Barbara’s never-ending quest for more affordable housing in one of the most expensive communities in the world.

Santa Barbara has struggled with how to provide more workforce housing, with slow-growth forces at odds with affordable housing advocates over population growth. 

Nearly 20,000 people commute every day from Ventura County to Santa Barbara, and thousands more from the North County, because of the high cost of living on the South Coast. 

California passed a law in 2016 requiring cities to allow ADUs as a way to boost affordable housing stock, and while cities do have authority over where the units are built, and how large they are, cities cannot ban them altogether. 

Since January 2017, Santa Barbara has received 345 ADU applications from homeowners. In the 25 years prior, Santa Barbara received only one application. 

Alex Pujo, an architect and longtime affordable housing activist, spoke passionately during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting, pleading with the council to embrace ADUs.

He said housing was a civil right, and that there were no innocent bystanders in the discussion. While speaking to the council, he raised his right hand holding hundreds of the ADU applications.

“Do you want housing or no housing?” Pujo asked. “When this pile gets bigger, the rents go down. This is not a promise. It is a mathematical certainty.”

He acknowledged that ADUs won’t solve all of Santa Barbara’s housing problems.

“This is not a silver bullet, but regarding housing, there aren’t many bullets left,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.