Why is San Diego, California's Most Progressive County for ADUs?

Al Harris
September 8, 2020

Why is San Diego, California's Most Progressive County for ADUs?

San Diego County is home to more than 3 million residents, with more than 1.1 million homes. With nearly perfect year round weather, a rapidly growing economy that continues to create jobs, and aggressive expansion efforts in its' urban areas, it's no wonder the County is seeing rapid growth in its' base of residents. But this creates a new problem not unfamiliar to the rest of California. Where will we all live? San Diego thinks ADUs could be the answer, and here's why...

Once a specialty housing type, guest homes have become a strategic option in combating California’s housing shortage. These dwellings, more commonly known as ‘granny flats’ or by their policy and zoning term Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are accessory structures on the same property as the primary home. They are fully equipped with a kitchen, bathroom, living area, sleeping area, and a separate entrance. They can range in size from studios to three-bedroom houses. In the last 2 years, 30% of all new housing built in San Diego were ADUs. In the 10 years prior, they accounted for less than 1% of new housing. This major shift was the result of California State laws enacted in 2017 that removed many regulatory barriers statewide, making it possible for homeowners across the state to add new housing to their properties.

Photo Credit: Hausable

So why do we think San Diego stands out from the other areas in the state that face similar housing shortage problems? Well, they have quite simply put their money where their mouth is. The problem most homeowners face is paying the significant costs for fees, permits and plans. These soft costs are often difficult to understand, not budgeted for properly, and are in addition to costs for construction.

To mitigate these costs and spark ADU construction, San Diego has waived the $15,000 permit and development fees! And if that wasn’t enough, the county is now offering free, pre-approved floor plans. The combined financial impact of the initiative is a $30,000-$40,000 savings to the homeowner. The county has posted two permit-ready, no-cost floor plans that are sized at 600 and 1,200 square feet. And more floor plans will be added in coming weeks.

Steelblox has joined the party by pre-designing 4 ADU home models of its own. The modern, prefab modular homes are stylish, affordable and quickly accessible to all homeowners. Our models start at prices as low as the mid $60,000’s for our smaller studio models, and we offer a wide array of larger homes and options that make the home meet your specific requirements. Our modular homes range in size from as small as 320 sq ft, up to the CA State limit of 1200 sq ft, with several options in between.

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If you're interested in learning more about these pre-designed models, or adding a custom ADU, guest home or other type of modular structure to your property, you can connect with us to find out more.

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California is not exactly sitting this one out, drastically reducing regulation:

On October 9th, 2019, Governor Newsom signed 5 bills that make it even easier to build Accessory Dwelling Units in the state of California.

These CAA-backed bills address California's chronic housing shortage and intend to help "remove local barriers to housing construction, boost incentives for building higher-density affordable housing, and make it easier and cheaper to add second units to residential lots."

Listed below are some of the biggest effects of the new bills:

A decrease in side and rear setbacks‍

All Accessory Dwelling Units that have been newly constructed (from the ground-up) are now permitted to be as close as 4 feet to the side and rear property lines. This overrules the local zoning regulations that had been more restrictive in the past.

Homeowners are now able to build an ADU that's at least 800 sq.ft.

Previously, many homeowners were unable to build ADUs simply because their current home was too large and had already utilized the density or buildable area that was allowed by local zoning (this is usually regarded as a lot coverage percentage, floor to area ratio, or Residential Floor Area ratio). The state law passed by Governor Newsom allows all homeowners to build an ADU of up to 800 sq.ft., no matter the size of the existing home or density requirements in the neighborhood, just as long as the ADU stays more than 4ft from the side or rear property line, and abides by the mandatory fire-safety distances from the main home or any additional structures on the property. This removes the previous 50% restriction, that limiteds the size of the ADU to no more than half the size of the primary residence.


A Shorter Permit Application Approval Time

Local agencies are now required to respond to submitted permit applications within 60 days, and if not, the application is automatically approved due to default circumstances. Previous applications could take more than a year to approve in some jurisdictions.

Removal of Off-Street Replacement Parking Requirement

When you replace any garage, carport, or covered parking structure with a Backyard Home, it is no longer necessary to come up with a means of replacement parking on the property. In some cases this could completely prohibit the addition of the new structure.


ADUs can now also be built on lots with multi-family dwellings

Accessory Dwelling Units are now allowed to be be built on lots with Multi-Family dwellings (such as duplexes). In the Los Angeles County alone, that results in about 180,000 new properties that are qualified to build an ADU according to data from the Los Angeles Tax Assessors office.


Sufficiently Decreased Impact Fees

Impact fees are one time fees that are put in place by the city in correspondence with new housing development. Some examples of impact fees are transportation infrastructure fees, parks & recreation fees, and school fees. Before these newly passed bills, impact fees for even just a small ADU could cost homeowners anywhere between $5,000-30,000 depending on the city. Los Angeles City is on the lower end of that range. The new state laws put a complete stop to the impact fees for ADUs that are less than 750 sq.ft., and the fees now max out at 25% of what they would be for a new primary home for an ADU of at least 750 sq.ft.

All ADUs Are Now Able to be Rented

In the past, local ordinances could prohibit homeowners from renting out ADUs through the requirement of occupation by the owner. The new state laws give homeowners the authorization to build ADUs that can be rented out (Short term rentals may still be restricted by cities).

When merged together, these new state laws present clear evidence that ADUs are a brilliant way to add to our housing supply, and that policymakers are committed to making it even easier for any and all homeowners to do just that.

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