Surge of Granny Flats at the Beach Is Confirmed

by on March 18, 2021 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Locals involved with or observing planning and housing trends have been witness to a huge boom in the construction of so-called “granny flats” recently.

It seems there’s not a meeting of the OB Planning Board where there isn’t an application to build a granny flat somewhere in Ocean Beach. They’ve become a routine agenda item for the volunteers who run the planning panel.

None of them needed to read today’s Union-Tribune to know that the last two years have seen an explosion in granny flat approvals and completions, especially in OB and other beach neighborhoods.

David Garrick’s article reports:

New city data shows granny flats are being built mostly in three areas: near the beaches, urban communities surrounding downtown and neighborhoods near San Diego State University.

City officials credited the surge to loosened regulations, simplified approvals and fee reductions, but they said last week that additional efforts are underway to encourage even more granny flat construction in more parts of the city. They also are exploring whether more code enforcement is needed to prevent granny flats from being used as vacation rentals. And some neighborhoods have complained they lack the infrastructure to support new granny flat residents.

Since San Diego began loosening regulations five years ago, granny flat construction in the city has climbed from nine units built in 2016 to 286 units in 2020. The increase has been steady: 13 in 2017,61 in 2018 and 202 in 2019. …

The 14 units approved in 2016 climbed to 19 in 2017, 237 in 2018, 501 in 2019 and 541 in 2020. The number of new granny flats has increased steadily in each of San Diego’s nine council districts, but the strongest surges have been in Council Districts 2, 3 and 9.

Since 2016,185 have been built in District 9, which includes San Diego State; 131 have been built in District 3, which includes downtown and surrounding areas like North Park, and 101 have been in District 2, which includes the beaches.

On the other end of the scale are the city’s two most wealthy council districts. Just 34 granny flats have been built in District 1, which includes La Jolla and Carmel Valley, and only 5 have been built in District 5, which includes Rancho Bernardo and Scripps Ranch. …

City officials call granny flats the cheapest and fastest way to help solve the local housing affordability crisis. The smaller than normal homes are considered ideal for recent college graduates, young people with lower-paying jobs and senior citizens on fixed incomes who gave these units their colorful name. In addition to boosting the local housing supply, granny flats generate rental income for homeowners, decreasing the likelihood they will struggle to pay their mortgage.

Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera warned that while he supports granny flat construction, people should not pretend that granny flats are necessarily all that affordable. Granny flat rents might not always be as low as people think because housing is so scarce in San Diego. Elo-Rivera said. “There are plenty of landlords who are willing to exploit the shortage of housing.”

San Diego has also waived fees that used to be required for the construction of granny flats. The Development Service Department told the U-T that typical city fees have been reduced to between $5,000 and $25,000, depending on neighborhood. Garrick also reports:

San Diego has expanded the types of zones where granny flats can be built, eliminated parking requirements and created a program to allow property owners to build one bonus granny flat for each one they build with rent restrictions.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Webb March 18, 2021 at 3:17 pm

There is one continually perpetuated fallacy regarding granny flats or ADUs. As David Garrick says in the Union-Tribune article:

“The smaller than normal homes are considered ideal for recent college graduates, young people with lower-paying jobs and senior citizens on fixed incomes who gave these units their colorful name.”

I would encourage anybody with any interest in the granny flat issue to go to the city’s own web site and look up what can be build as a granny flat. The City’s manual for granny flats can be found at Scroll down and you will find that you are allowed to build a two-story, 1,200 square foot second unit with no additional parking on a 5,000 square foot lot. I would point out that this is larger than many homes in the beach area. In fact it is larger than my home.

Certainly, these are smaller than the McMansions currently being constructed or remodeled in the beach area, but, remember, these are intended to be accessory units, not full fledged homes.

There is nothing “colorful” about living next to an “accessory” three bedroom home, frequently occupied by a number of unrelated adults, that provides no additional parking. Nothing except, perhaps, the language used by the neighbors to describe the situation.


kh March 22, 2021 at 2:30 pm

Two stories? Psssshh.

Per new state laws, you can now build granny flats 3 stories, larger than your existing home, and in excess of the maximum F.A.R.


Frank J March 18, 2021 at 4:50 pm

Hmmm. I’m just glad the are still referred to as ‘granny flats’ these days, as opposed to ADU’s (Accessory Dwelling Unit), elder cottages, accessory apartments, or mother-in-law suites!


Paul Webb March 19, 2021 at 11:05 am

If you look at the pre-approved plans, you will see that it is not a “flat” at all, but two stories. But I guess “granny two-stories” doesn’t have the same panache.


Tyler March 21, 2021 at 11:06 am

I know a lot of young folks who have been able to stay on the peninsula purely due to the increased Inventory these have provided. So many 20 somethings living in granny flats just in my neighborhood. I love it – increased density without changing what we see from the street


Geoff Page March 21, 2021 at 6:50 pm

“Increased density without changing what se we from the street?” What you will see from the street is a parking nightmare, Tyler. And plenty of these ADUs are on top of garages now, you’ll see that too. And, you’ll see lots of angry people who purposefully bought their homes in single family neighborhoods who are now seeing that zoning being changed without going through the proper steps to rezone. The amount of free space in Point Loma. such as houses with backyards is disappearing before our eyes.


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