Councilmember’s Recommended Revisions to San Diego ‘Granny Flat’ Regulations

by on September 28, 2021 · 36 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera of San Diego’s 9th Council District has come up with a series of recommended revisions to the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) or “granny flat” regulations.

In his Memorandum to the City Council, Elo-Rivera outlines his recommendations which he makes after listening “to the feedback of many community members, including ardent supporters and opponents of the current policy, and conducted a thorough analysis of the regulations put into place by the previous administration. Following months of conversations with stakeholders and analysis, I propose to work with Mayor Gloria to bring forward the following revisions to address affordable housing, environmental, and quality of life concerns in San Diego’s ADU regulations.”

We invite anyone to respond to Elo-Rivera’s recommendations, as we note not everyone agrees. But at least he has helped the debate. Here are the councilmember’s recommendations, without comment, unedited (except for paragraph breaks and the elimination of footnotes):


Increased Affordability

Current ADU Bonus Program regulations allow for a bonus ADU to be permitted for every deed-restricted ADU affordable at 120% Area Median Income (AMI) for 15 years. While building
“missing middle” housing is badly needed, this bonus should only be offered for deed-restricted ADUs at 80% AMI to ensure that these homes are actually available at lower rents than the market rate bonus home for which it allows. In addition, I propose an option to allow ADU bonus units at 90% AMI if restricted for 20 years—5 years longer than the existing bonus program. This strengthening of our commitment to below market rate affordability will serve the purposes of providing affordable homes during a time of skyrocketing rents and be an affirmative step in addressing the de jure and de facto segregation that continues to play a substantial role in determining access to opportunity in our City.

Urban Tree Canopy Preservation

In order to maintain our City’s urban tree canopy, pursuant to our Climate Action Plan (CAP) goals, it is important that we mitigate the loss of mature shade trees that are removed as a result of construction of an ADU. With this in mind, I propose that any development of an ADU that removes a mature shade tree is required to replace each tree, either (1) in the parkway immediately adjacent to the property or, if not feasible, (2) within the community planning area that the ADU was constructed in. Moreover, to ensure replacement trees are of maximum benefit to the community, newly planted trees must be consistent with the City’s Street Tree Selection Guide.


Constituents have raised concerns about how additional housing in their neighbor’s backyards may impact their sense of privacy in their own homes. To mitigate the loss of privacy that many residents feel with the construction of ADUs, I propose requiring the installation of appropriately sized fences, trees, bushes, or other privacy additions for any multi-story ADU developments to mitigate these concerns. Current regulations allow for fences to be permitted up to 9 feet in height on the side and rear yards. I request staff update fence regulations to require taller fences for multi-story ADUs along the side or rear yard if a window is present. This would not apply on the sides of a wall without a window for an ADU story above ground level.

Additional Future Considerations

The following recommendations are proposals that I support developing further but may need more time to research and plan than land development code updates outlined above.

Additional Affordability Programs

San Diego can do more to incentivize more affordable ADU construction beyond regulatory updates. Other jurisdictions have developed unique programs to spur affordable ADU construction that San Diego can look to for guidance. One program pairs older adults with homeowners willing to provide a stable home by offering their ADUs as rentals. 10 In exchange, homeowners receive benefits such as qualified tenant referrals, tenant case management, and stable rental payments.

Another California jurisdiction provides an ADU Loan Pilot Program that provides homeowners with a forgivable loan of $75,000 to construct new ADUs, and $50,000 for rehabbing existing unpermitted ADUs that will house people transitioning out of homelessness for a minimum of ten years.11 San Diego, via the Housing Commission, should also consider the development of a revolving loan program that offers forgivable loans for seniors interested in downsizing from their home into an onsite ADU if that homeowner rents the primary residence to a very low or extremely low income family.

This program could help simultaneously address the affordability challenges inhibiting the ability of some seniors from downsizing12, while providing low-income families with quality housing in high opportunity neighborhoods and maintaining neighborhood stability. To keep our city inclusive and help create a healthy and stable future for all, I request we develop additional affordability programs for our seniors, low-income families and for folks experiencing homelessness.


San Diegans should be confident that our City’s rules and codes will be enforced. Unfortunately, generations of insufficient revenue have left our City’s code enforcement team stretched too thin to provide residents with confidence that rules will be enforced. In addition to continuing my support for the funding of additional code enforcement positions, I recommend reinstituting the City’s resident-led Code Compliance Volunteer Program, which could address quality of life concerns such as parking on front lawns and other code violations visible from the public right-of-way, and re-examining Code Enforcement’s Priority of Cases.

Moreover, it must be acknowledged that our City has serial bad actors that have taken advantage of lax enforcement to the significant frustration of the neighbors of those neglectful property owners. This issue is especially pronounced in the College Area where a few owners of dozens of properties have continuously flouted rules. Absent stronger enforcement, these irresponsible property owners will almost certainly exploit the City’s new ADU rules to the serious detriment of residents, both those who live in those homes and their neighbors.

These concerns are compounded by the growing presence of large corporate enterprises in owning multifamily and single-family rental properties. I recommend the City implement a progressive enforcement model that recognizes the outsized impact that a single owner – be that an individual or a corporation – of many properties can have on our City. Relatedly, we will continue to advocate for the City to create a rental registry so we can do better in monitoring and holding accountable the property owners who most impact San Diego.

Maintenance Assessment District Fees Current state ADU law exempts ADUs up to 750 square feet from incurring impact fees from local agencies, special districts, and water corporations. In an effort to address infrastructure needs in our Mid-City neighborhoods and further build upon our City’s base of Maintenance Assessment Districts (MADs), I propose that new ADUs that are 750 square feet or larger be assessed on a square foot basis.

I believe a modest MAD assessment fee can help ensure fairness and provide communities with yet another benefit of increased density. An assessment fee will be significantly lower than Development Impact Fees and would be feasible to be incurred by a homeowner who desires to build ADUs on their property. As a first step towards potentially assessing MAD fees, I have asked City staff to determine the feasibility and methodology of assessing ADUs. Lastly, I will be requesting that our City Attorney’s office determine any legal questions and concerns related to unilaterally assessing ADUs.

Speculation Mitigation

Waiving DIF fees is an important incentive to make the development of ADUs more attainable for homeowners looking to add homes on their property. However, there is an important
difference between incentivizing homeowners to pursue wealth-building opportunities and giveaways for corporate investors looking to maximize their profits with no care for their impact on the neighborhood.

Therefore, I recommend continuing to waive DIF fees for all ADUs on owner-occupied lots while beginning to charge the fees that the City has the legal ability to charge for when an ADU development is not owner-occupied and is owned by an investor, an LLC, or Real Estate Investment Trust. Levied DIF fees would only be applied according to state law, meaning that any developer would continue to receive DIF fees waived for units smaller than 750 square feet and all deed-restricted homes but begin to pay into impact fees for larger or market rate homes to contribute to badly needed infrastructure improvements in all neighborhoods.


Generations of insufficient revenue and underinvestment have left many neighborhoods in District 9 with failing infrastructure. Residents have expressed an understandable concern that their already deficient infrastructure will buckle under the weight of increased density. The Mayor has taken important steps to address this concern through his “Sexy Streets” initiative. We propose additional initiatives that prioritize investment in infrastructure in older neighborhoods that see significant increases in density.

To support this proposal, we recommend pursuing potential grants from President Biden’s Unlocking Possibilities Program, “an innovative, new $5 billion competitive grant program that awards flexible and attractive funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate needless barriers to producing affordable housing and expand housing choices for people with low or moderate incomes.”

Parking Policies

Parking policies have an outsized impact on our policy goals, including our housing and Climate Action Plan goals. I encourage the City to analyze how our on-street parking policies, including the residential parking permit program, can be used to intentionally advance our shared goals while also successfully managing parking in the public right-of-way within Transit Priority Areas.

More specifically, I recommend the development of residential parking permits for all single-family zones in Transit Priority Areas that would limit the number of permits provided to any one parcel, regardless of the number of ADUs on that parcel. Each home in an existing multifamily condominium or apartment would each receive the same number as a single-family home parcel. However, since ADUs are accessory to a single-family home, ADUs would not receive additional parking permits.

By doing so, we can simultaneously mitigate the impact on quality of life for existing residents and on infrastructure by managing parking and encouraging alternative modes of transportation while also ensuring the City secures the considerable environmental benefits that well-planned infill development can and should deliver.

Analyze Effective City Communication & Community Education

Excellent governance requires excellent communication. Unfortunately, previous City leadership ignored the importance of communication beyond press opportunities and community trust has eroded. That must change. As the Mayor and the Council undertake a bold, progressive agenda to bring forward opportunity for all, we must ensure that the City properly communicates the truth about policies proposed or already in effect to bring community members alongside us.

Failing to do so undermines the trust that we require in order to achieve our ambitious goals and allows for misinformation to take root. Additionally, we must recognize that the expansion and decentralization of methods of communication have made it easier for misinformation to rapidly become “common knowledge” within communities. This creates a barrier to our ability to identify problems and solutions. With this in mind, I propose that the City intentionally study how we can better keep our constituents informed of policy changes, embody transparency, and empower constituents to be active members of City government.

Community Character

Many constituents understand the need for more housing in all neighborhoods, but want the changes to respect the neighborhood’s architectural history. The Central Urbanized Planned
District (CUPD) requires that new multifamily development include architectural features from specific architectural styles. These same features required in multifamily should also be required for ADUs within the CUPD and any other planned district that also require architectural features.

As resources permit, the permit-ready building plans currently available could be updated to provide a range of architectural features for various architectural styles that could be easily used in Planned Districts where regulations require architectural features. Updating the Land Development Code to require that ADUs comply with architectural feature requirements should not be implemented until permit-ready building plans featuring various architectural styles are available for use, to ensure that compliance with architectural styles does not incur additional costs to the development of ADUs.

College Area

Many of the issues outlined in this memo are especially compounded in the College Area, where a lack of student housing for a university in a traditionally single-family neighborhood has resulted in negative outcomes for students and neighbors alike. These issues range from paving over front yards for parking, overcrowded homes, exploitative rents for substandard living conditions, and more. I propose forming an advisory group assembled with San Diego State University leadership, students, residents, and Planning and Development Services departments to discuss how to ensure the safety and well-being of all residents. I offer my full support and the support of my staff in assessing the above proposals for consideration to address the needs of all San Diegans to have access to quality, affordable housing, and clean and healthy neighborhoods.

For any questions or concerns, please contact Maya Rosas, Deputy Chief of Staff, Ninth Council District, at or (619) 236-6699.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Webb September 28, 2021 at 1:58 pm

I really, really, really hate and oppose the expansion of permit parking programs to all residential neighborhoods in Transit Priority Areas. I oppose them for both philosophical and practical reasons. I experienced the permit parking program when I lived in Hillcrest some years ago.

On a philosophical level, I oppose them because the program placed the burden of dealing with parking on the back of the residents of an area, not on the individuals or entities that have created the problem. The residents must apply for and pay for the permits, and will not in all cases be able to get a sufficient number of permits. In Hillcrest, the parking problem was caused not by the residents, but the hospitals and their staffs, patients and visitors. The residents, however, were the ones who were required to deal with the permit system and pay for the permits.

With respect to the ADUs, parking problems will be caused or exacerbated by the builders and owners of the increased number of ADUs, but all residents will have to get the permits. Why should I have to pay the price for the actions of others who may be deriving profits or other benefits from the construction of ADUs?

From a practical standpoint, the permit program I experienced made it difficult for friends and family members to visit. Again, the permit holders are paying the price for a problem caused by others.

And don’t be complacent about the proposal only affecting residents of TPAs. The truth is, 60% of city residents live in a TPA. And remember, being in a TPA doesn’t necessarily mean that you have adequate access to transit that suits your needs, just that there is a bus route a certain distance away, whether it goes where you want to go or not.


Frank Gormlie September 28, 2021 at 7:36 pm

Excellent point! Some of us have lived in other cities where there was adequate public transit, where it was a major priority. Thanks, I’ve never seen the argument vs permit parking so well articulated; the ” burden of dealing with parking on the back of the residents of an area, not on the individuals or entities that have created the problem. The residents must apply for and pay for the permits, and will not in all cases be able to get a sufficient number of permits.”


Geoff Page September 29, 2021 at 11:41 am

Great comment, Paul. But, damn it, you just make too much sense for some people.


Paul September 28, 2021 at 3:49 pm

This is precisely the kind of non-useful comment I’ve come to expect on this site. No solutions, just complaints.

I’m not a fan of these permits either – because they are priced well below market value ($14/year for a street space likely worth hundreds or thousands of dollars), and elevates homeowners over ADU renters. But you’d just rather no ADUs are built in the first place?

Providing badly-needed housing isn’t a “problem caused by others”. But preventing new housing *is* a problem caused by single family homeowners who prioritize abundant free street parking over housing for others.

There is absolutely nothing that guarantees you and your visitors abundant free street parking in a metro of 3 million people. Yet you somehow adamantly expect and demand it (it it just sheer car culture boomer entitlement?) – despite it preventing housing opportunities for others.

“Other people must suffer in order for you to have what you want” – Jill Louise Busby


Geoff Page September 29, 2021 at 11:38 am

When will people like you understand, it is not the supply of housing that is the problem. it is the cost. An apartment building in OB recently changed hands. The sale was $3.7 million. The previous sale was 33 years ago at $595,000. The new rents are in the $3k range. The ridiculous value of real estate today is the problem.


Chris September 29, 2021 at 1:32 pm

As you know, there really is not a shortage of housing. There is a shortage of housing that middle to low income can afford. As you also know, there are a lot of apartment and condo complexes that are sitting mostly empty due to a shortage of people who can afford them. Some have been in place for at least 5 years now. Conventional logic is that should drive the prices down but that’s just not always the case. As you also know, many of the people who can afford these units are in their 30s and 40s and therefor not boomers. That means you do not really hold the opinion that this crisis is a boomer issue.


Bearded OBcean September 30, 2021 at 9:08 am

Chris, that’s simply not true. Yes, there are some new condos sitting empty that have been recently built and ask for more than $1 million, but there just aren’t “a lot of apartment complexes that are sitting mostly empty due to a shortage of people who can afford them.”
Brand new apartment communities in San Diego average roughly $3000/month in rent and are recording their strongest absorption figures in 20 years and are most often now stabilizing ahead of ownership projections. Landlords right now have unparalleled pricing power and are getting what they’re asking given the surging demand for apartments. The countywide vacancy rate is 2.5%!


Chris September 30, 2021 at 11:57 am

I can tell you matter of factly there are quite a few in Bankers Hill, Little Italy, and Hillcrest (some have been there 4 to 5 years) and are more than half vacant.


Chris September 29, 2021 at 1:46 pm

And yes I DO feel I should not have to pay for parking in my residential area since I don’t have a garage. I’m not a homeowner but that makes no difference.


Geoff Page September 29, 2021 at 1:54 pm

I did not realize until Paul Webb’s comment that the people who have permits in the areas around the hospital actually had to pay for those permits. That is ridiculous.


Paul Webb September 29, 2021 at 2:18 pm

Geoff, the permit fee is only $9 per year, so it’s not an onerous cost. It’s more the principal of the thing that because of the impacts of someone else’s use of their property, I have to pay money and jump through some hoops.


Geoff Page September 29, 2021 at 2:45 pm

No, I’m with you, Paul. I don’t care how much it costs. The whole idea stinks.


Peter from South O September 29, 2021 at 3:30 pm

Perhaps the $9 does two things: a – pays for the cost of the hang-tags/stickers b – keeps ‘orphaned’ permits from perpetuating forever (keeps the rolls updated).


Geoff Page September 29, 2021 at 4:02 pm

That sounds logical. Peter. My reply then would be let the organizations who caused the problem pay for the permits and handle the paperwork. As Paul said, they caused the problem, why should residents be responsible for any of it?

Why not have a parking garage and require anyone who has business with the hospital – patients, visitors, employees – to park only in the garage and not on the surface streets? That is an old residential area in Hillcrest. The hospital expanded over the years, not the neighborhood.


Peter from South O September 29, 2021 at 8:53 pm

Just how would that work? Are business in the area also partly responsible? If I were the hospital (or what ever entity or business in the area that is ‘blamed’ for the impact) wouldn’t I have a case for legal push-back in such a scenario?


Paul Webb September 28, 2021 at 6:42 pm

“Boomer entitlement” indeed!

What about the solutions you mention? Just an insult? How is this “less useful” than my comment.

I will offer a solution. Provide parking with the ADUs, or, alternatively, provide an adequate public transit system that is designed to serve our region’s citizens.


Paul Webb September 28, 2021 at 6:43 pm

Oh, and by the way, I post my full name and take responsibility for my comments, unlike some.


Don Wood September 28, 2021 at 7:07 pm

Is the author the same Maya Rosa who cofounded the San Diego YIMBY organization? YIMBYs have taken over city hall.


Frank Gormlie September 28, 2021 at 7:37 pm

Maya Rosa now works for Sean Elo-Rivera, but are you insinuating the true author of “Paul” is Rosa?


Paul Webb September 29, 2021 at 4:31 pm

I’d be really interested in knowing if this is true, especially as I was referred to by “Paul” as an “entitled boomer.” It’s bad enough to be insulted on the basis of my age and referred to as entitled by someone who knows nothing about me, but if it came from an employee of a city council office…that would be something else entirely.


Frank Gormlie September 29, 2021 at 4:57 pm

I believe the person penning under “Paul” is Paul Jamison.


Mat Wahlstrom September 29, 2021 at 9:59 pm

Yes: Paul JAMASON. Unless that person, so ‘always on’ social media — and who used to include his full name when posting on here, and still links to @obrag on Twitter thinking none of you will see it — cares to disavow association with this obvious developer shill post?


Chris September 29, 2021 at 5:07 pm

I’ve learned that being insulted for my age by younger generations is something that just sort of goes with the territory. In another article I mentioned that my wife and I sometimes get dirty looks from some of the younger customers in a couple of the bars we frequent (I’m 60 and she’s 57) who are just annoyed that we are in their presence.


Geoff Page September 29, 2021 at 5:10 pm

I treat ’em all like I treat my kids. I go out of my way to bug the shit out of them.


Chris September 29, 2021 at 5:27 pm

If the place has one of those touchtone jukeboxes, we’ll dominate with music we know they won’t tolerate. They clear out of the place pretty quick.


Gail Friedt September 29, 2021 at 4:28 pm

You say that like it’s a bad thing. I’m a boomer and ? for it.


Paul Webb September 29, 2021 at 11:28 am

I was not familiar with Jill Louise Busby, so I googled her and got her web page. It consists of offers to pre-order her book and, mostly, photos of herself, which I thinks speaks volumes. I’ll pass on letting her make me feel guilty for my comments and beliefs.


John Woodruff September 30, 2021 at 5:02 pm

I live in La Jolla, and I can tell you we don’t have all these ADU problems, we have a very strict planning committee that reviews everything, what about ocean beach? Maybe everyone is just to stoned to know what’s going on,


Frank Gormlie October 1, 2021 at 9:30 am

John, for your edification, Ocean Beach residents managed to organize the very first democratically-elected planning committee in the history of San Diego. That was 1976. And, of course, don’t forget, LJ is part of the city of San Diego and will be subject to the state’s and the city’s new laws re zoning and ADUs, despite the “power” of your planning committee. Perhaps, you ought to take some of your own advice, and get stoned and do some genuflection.


Geoff Page October 1, 2021 at 1:27 pm

I believe I’ve seen this name before. Mr. Woodruff is just a troll having fun.


Paul Webb October 1, 2021 at 12:08 pm

A very interesting comment, Woody. You know, officially the La Jolla planning association has the same exact level of power as the OB or Peninsula planning boards – zero! All are advisory to the city planning commission that governs the city as a whole. Now, unofficially, do the citizens of La Jolla and their opinions about development carry the same weight as any other citizens or planning groups? Well, I’m not naive enough the think that this is anywhere close to true. The ears of the powers that be in San Diego have always been particularly sensitive to the voices of La Jolla, and, sadly, probably always will be.


Geoff Page October 1, 2021 at 1:22 pm

Actually, La Jolla may be different. I came across sections of the San Diego Municipal Code devoted to La Jolla’s community plan, Chapter 15, Articles 9 and 10. I found this some time ago and was surprised to see it. I’m not sure if it will help them in this issue.


Paul Webb October 1, 2021 at 4:00 pm

I had completely forgotten about the La Jolla and La Jolla Shores planned district ordinances. There was one for Old Town, as well. Somehow I was under the impression that the City had done away with the PDOs, but I guess I was wrong.

Back in the 70’s, I wrote a planned district ordinance for the OB planning board to take to the City for consideration of adoption. The response was that there would be no new planned districts in the City of San Diego.


Frank Gormlie October 2, 2021 at 3:06 pm

I also keep forgetting that you Paul were involved in the first days of OB planning. Have you checked out the treasure trove of old documents and records hidden here in the Rag about the 70s planning “struggles”?


Chris October 1, 2021 at 7:28 am

La Jolla is whole separate situation from most other SD communities. Being the very affluent high end community it is, it doesn’t comprise of residents struggling with affordability so ADU issues don’t exist there. One thing’s for sure. Before weed became legal for recreational uses in California, some of the best could be found in LJ.


Toby October 6, 2021 at 11:02 am

After seeing numerous articles in favor of affordable housing; I’ve got a few questions:

Does affordable housing address how much rent can be charged on units?
I’ve seen quite a few houses listed for sale in OB & Point Loma that
advertise rental units in the listing. These rental units range from
400 to 1000sf and are usually start at $700+ per mo for a studio
type unit. Is this rate affordable housing?

What examples can you offer where building more units leads to
lower rents? For example, New York City has a number of very
small units in the city that are very small and very expensive.

Your thoughts?


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: