Growing Opposition to ‘Granny Flats’ in San Diego Leads to Councilmember’s Proposed Changes

by on September 27, 2021 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

By David Garrick / San Diego Union-Tribune / Sept. 26, 2021 

Growing outcry over granny flat construction in some San Diego neighborhoods has prompted city officials to propose rolling back some recent policy changes that have made San Diego’s rules among the least restrictive in California. Critics who say the city’s granny flat rules are too lenient are calling the recently proposed rollback from Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera a good start, but they say it won’t prevent some property owners from destroying neighborhood character by building multiple granny flats in one back yard.

Ardent proponents say that granny flats — which city officials call accessory dwelling units or ADUs — are the cheapest and fastest way to solve San Diego’s housing crisis. They say Elo-Rivera’s new proposal is an overreaction to a problem that isn’t widespread and probably never will be. People on both sides of the issue agree that how the city balances its incentives to build granny flats with its restrictions on them will likely affect the look and feel of many San Diego neighborhoods for decades to come.

Elo-Rivera is proposing a series of complex adjustments to city granny flat rules that aim to increase their availability to low-income tenants and to prevent corporate investors from turning granny flats into a lucrative business. Elo-Rivera’s district includes Kensington and some other areas that have loudly opposed loosening granny flat rules. He wants new parking restrictions and a requirement to replace any trees removed to make way for a granny flat. He also proposes charging the owners of large granny flats ongoing maintenance fees, to help pay for new infrastructure needed to accommodate the additional residents living in a neighborhood’s granny flats. His six-page, multi-pronged proposal comes after the first backlash against the city’s looser granny flat rules emerged last spring in Kensington, Talmadge, Rolando and some nearby neighborhoods.

Vocal opposition has since spread to the College Area and some other communities, and the opponents have formed a well-organized lobbying organization called Neighbors for a Better San Diego. While the group is praising Elo-Rivera for addressing the issue and applauding some of his ideas, they stress that his proposal would not eliminate one issue that has prompted the most opposition — a granny flat density bonus.

That policy, adopted last fall by the City Council, goes beyond current state law by allowing property owners to construct extra granny flats on their property if they agree to rent restrictions on at least one of their granny flats. While state law does not include bonus units, San Diego allows any property owner willing to build a rent-restricted granny flat to build one bonus granny flat that can be rented at market rate. And if the property is within a half-mile of an existing or planned transit line, the property owner can build multiple bonus granny flats if they also build an equal number of rent-restricted flats.

The residents say that “density bonus” will destroy neighborhood character, making residential zoning mostly meaningless. They said it also will exacerbate parking scarcity in many neighborhoods and lengthen the time it takes to get to freeways in others. “The density bonus has made the (granny flats) program more impactful than it has to be,” said Geoff Heuter, one of the group’s leaders. “We like some of Elo-Rivera’s proposals, but there’s a gap between what he is proposing and what needs to be done.”

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

kh September 27, 2021 at 2:56 pm

Do you have a link to Sean’s 6 page proposal?


Mat Wahlstrom September 27, 2021 at 9:57 pm
Frank Gormlie September 28, 2021 at 9:05 am

Mat – thanks. I probably ought to publish his points.


Tessa September 27, 2021 at 9:12 pm

I hope an army of new “granny flats” don’t take off here in OB. As a long term renter, I already live in a dense situation. Sure, my landlady might be able to squeeze another dwelling on this property, but to the diminishment of what little privacy I already have here. Such flats will not help with affordability, despite the claims. I’m not sure who the winners will be – developers, perhaps. But certainly not those who already live here, hanging on financially by their fingernails.


Sadie September 28, 2021 at 2:02 pm

Another huge issue is that this is to be in beach areas & a few miles inland in some places. This is the most expensive property. These bills are aimed at allowing builders to buy homes on single family neighborhoods, in beach areas, to build mini housing that can be used for STVR’s. Otherwise the property being used would be on empty land a little inland.


Sadie September 28, 2021 at 2:18 pm

Also for those that chose to purchase the more expensive government zoned R1 property, this is government stealing what they told us we were purchasing. R1 is a single family home, surrounded by other R1 single family homes. So the government is telling us they want our land so they can change it, after our paying for R1 for 30 years. We bought knowing that our neighborhood will be quiet, and with just the right amount of people that our community was planned for.


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