Santa Barbara City Attorney Ariel Calonne.
Santa Barbara City Attorney Ariel Calonne told the City Council on Tuesday that legislators in Sacramento are attempting to take away power from local residents. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara City Council took a stand against Sacramento on Tuesday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 9 signed into law a new set of rules designed to make it easier for people to build accessory dwelling units, as part of a larger statewide effort to provide more affordable housing. 

However, the City Council on Tuesday voted 6-0 to take steps to protect the foothills and historic structures and their neighborhoods from too much high-density housing. 

“What’s going on here is not the Legislature taking power away from the city,” City Attorney Ariel Calonne said. “They are taking power away from the residents of Santa Barbara.”

The new law, AB 881, allows for the construction of multiple accessory dwelling units in multi-unit developments, lowers setback requirements, prohibits replacement parking requirements, streamlines the ADU application process by reducing the review period from 120 days to 60 days, and allows for both ADUs and junior ADUs to exist on the same residential single-unit lot.

Owners would not have to live in the primary home either. 

An ADU is also called a “granny flat unit.” It is usually a second small residence on the same grounds as a single-family home, such as a back house or an apartment over a garage.

A junior ADU is a separately rented area within an existing home.

AB 881 also states that any local ADU ordinance, including Santa Barbara’s, that does not comply with the new state law on Jan. 1 is considered “null and void.”

With its unanimous vote Tuesday, the council agreed to pass an emergency ordinance that accepts the state’s requirements, but not within the foothill or extreme foothill fire zones, or on or near historic structures.

The council said that approving ADUs in high fire zones would be a threat to public health and safety because it would bring more traffic and congestion to a part of Santa Barbara that has narrow roads and limited parking.

Santa Barbara City Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon, left, with Mayor Cathy Murillo.

Santa Barbara City Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon, left, with Mayor Cathy Murillo, said that it would be irresponsible to allow ADUs in the foothills, where there are high fire risks. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The emergency ordinance will allow the city staff time to draft rules that protect these areas, while still trying to comply with the state law. 

Calonne said it’s very difficult for Santa Barbara residents to go to Sacramento to influence state lawmakers.

However, local residents have the power to talk to their City Council members to possibly influence decisions. The state is chipping away at that power by mandating actions without city input, Calonne said. 

“If I walk into Trader Joe’s and bump into council member Sneddon in the checkout line, I can give her a piece of my mind,” Calonne said. “It’s up close, personal and local. And that’s why the residents of Santa Barbara ought to care about the state Legislature taking power away from their locally elected officials.”

California passed a law in 2016 requiring cities to allow ADUs as a way to boost affordable housing stock. The state required that they be issued over-the-counter permits, with no design or environmental review. 

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.

The state sees ADUs as essential to the effort to help solve the state’s affordable housing crisis. In Santa Barbara, the state law is working. 

Prior to the new law, the city approved the construction of about 20 accessory dwelling units. Since 2017, it has approved more than 450. 

Still, enough’s enough, some council members said Tuesday.

Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon said she recognizes there’s a housing crisis, and the city has taken many steps to build more housing through the average unit-sized density incentive program and efforts to build housing downtown.

“It is a health and safety hazard on those hillsides,” Sneddon said. “It would be, in my mind, completely irresponsible as a representative of the people to promote continued density in those high-fire hillside areas.”

Councilman Randy Rowse said he’s “over Sacramento.”

“The idea that we are going to solve or mitigate the housing crisis in the state, so to speak, by burdening and taking away the sanctity of neighborhoods is not something that is a very Santa Barbara thing,” Rowse said. “It’s trying make one-size-fits-all for the entire state.”

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