Man addresses Santa Barbara City Council
Architect Alex Pujo urges the Santa Barbara City Council to adopt a robust accessory dwelling unit ordinance to help meet affordable housing needs. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The city of Santa Barbara on Tuesday crept a bit closer to an accessory dwelling unit ordinance that would open the door to new construction throughout the city, but still tried to prevent destruction of its neighborhoods.

“The idea is to free up housing, but not open the floodgates entirely,” said Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon.”We have a responsibility to preserve our neighborhoods and what makes Santa Barbara special.”

The council took several votes Tuesday night related to regulating ADUs.

The meeting lasted more than six hours, with the ADU topic consuming nearly four hours of the discussion at Santa Barbara City Hall.

Since the council riffed off the staff report and created some new rules during the meeting, city staff will have to return with a repackaged ordinance for another vote. 

The council voted 4-2, with Mayor Cathy Murillo and Councilman Randy Rowse in opposition, to require ADU units to be owner-occupied in perpetuity.

The council had considered a 10-year covenant, which Murillo and Rowse backed, that would allow homeowners to move after a decade, but a majority of the council balked.

The state of California in 2016 passed a law that required cities to allow ADUs, without environmental review, as a way to boost affordable housing. Cities do have some authority to regulate where they go, and their size, but it cannot ban them altogether.

Since January 2017, Santa Barbara has received more than 300 applications from homeowners to build accessory dwelling units.

The covenant in perpetuity is designed to guard against people buying homes with the idea of eventually turning them into short-term vacation rentals.

“There are major corporations in Southern California who are buying single-family homes and then turning them into vacation rentals,” said Councilman Gregg Hart, adding that the city is not succeeding in vacation rental enforcement.

Like many coastal communities throughout the state, Santa Barbara is struggling with a shortage of affordable housing. Santa Barbara has very little vacant land for new development so developers and architects are looking to build high-density housing projects downtown and in some other parts of the community.

Investors are also buying single-family homes and converting them into more lucrative short-term vacation rentals, eating away at the number of homes available to working, middle-class residents.

State lawmakers have put additional pressure on local cities by requiring that they issue over-the-counter design review permits for ADUs, as an attempt to further open up housing.

The new law is widely embraced by developers and architects, who have been focused on improving affordable housing opportunities both in the downtown and across the city.

The council also voted to allow junior accessory dwelling units, which are no more than 500 square feet in size and are contained entirely within an existing single-family structure, everywhere in the city.

The ADUS that are attached to a primary residence cannot exceed 50 percent of the existing primary unit or a maximum of 1,200 square feet, whichever is less. For detached residences, the total floor space area cannot exceed 1,200 square feet.

The ADUs cannot exceed height or number of stories of primary unit or 17 feet, whichever is greater.

The council on Tuesday also voted 5-1, with Rowse in opposition, to ban ADUs in the city’s extreme high fire zone because of concerns about evacuation routes in higher density neighborhoods.

“I am going to err on the side of caution here,” Sneddon said.

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

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at