Developers Exploit ‘Granny Flat’ Rules

by on January 17, 2022 · 6 comments

in San Diego

By Paul Krueger / Times of San Diego / January 13, 2022

Eric Rosenzweig won’t ever know if good fences really do make good neighbors. That’s because the law won’t let Eric build a 23-foot tall fence to protect his family’s privacy from the three “accessory dwelling units” that will soon loom large over his backyard.

Eric recently learned that a local investment firm purchased the property that abuts his home on Manchester Street, near 70th Street, in the College East area. That neighborhood is zoned for single-family homes, but our city’s ill-conceived ADU ordinance allows the investors to fill their property with three two-story ADUs.

Plans on file with the city confirm the absentee landlord will also convert the garage on the existing house to a living unit. Add it up, and you get an eight-unit apartment complex, courtesy of a perverse mash-up of state and local regulations most San Diegans thought were meant to simply make it easier for homeowners to build a “granny flat” and garage conversion.

Eric and his neighbors have all sorts of problems with that project, and a similar seven-unit complex on 69th Street. They’re upset that current regulations don’t require even a single off-street parking spot for multi-unit ADUs. They’re angry that the developers can clear-cut the backyards and cover them with concrete, despite the city’s pledge to plant thousands of new shade trees to fight global warming.

They don’t understand why these outside investors are exempt from paying the development fees that maintain our streets and sidewalks and fund the construction of libraries and parks. And they don’t know why the city won’t plan for the cumulative impact of these two multi-unit ADUs, which Eric calculates will increase density by 33% on the impacted blocks.

Worse, they fully expect there will be more projects of equal or even larger size and scope in their single-family neighborhood. And there is no requirement that these absentee landlords reserve even a single rental unit for very-low or low-income housing.

Eric and his neighbors asked the city to reign in these abuses by approving sensible revisions to the city’s ADU ordinance. But so far, they’re gotten no help from Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, who represents their district, or Mayor Todd Gloria, who controls the city’s planning and building bureaucracy.

Elo-Rivera and Gloria both declined to attend a recent, well-attended neighborhood meeting in Eric’s backyard, refused to send a representative in their place, and won’t investigate the issue.

Eric also hoped he could talk directly with the developers and designers about his concerns. Maybe they could reduce the size of the huge, 12-foot window that will loom over his backyard, make even minimal design changes so the buildings blend better with the neighborhood, save the big beautiful backyard shade tree, plant additional trees on the property’s perimeter, or at least just tell him when demolition and construction will start.

Plans for the ADU with the large window that will be visible over Eric Rosenzweig’s fence.

“That’s all I want, is a conversation,” Eric told me. “When I built my addition,  I talked to my neighbors. It’s courtesy, just common, neighborhood courtesy.”

But Housing Solutions LLC, which is listed as the project developer, didn’t respond to Eric’s registered letters, and the owner of Maxable Space, the project designer, offered only vague indications of possible future discussions, in response to Eric’s “multiple, multiple” phone calls.

So Eric realized he’d have to go it alone to protect his family’s privacy and property value. He learned that other homeowners confronting similarly insensitive, out-of-scale projects planted fast-growing hedges along the shared property line. In mid-December, Eric paid a landscape contractor $10,000 to plant 34 ficus nitida trees along his fence line.

Those trees grow two or three feet per year, so in five years he’ll hopefully have a hedge that will at least partially restore his privacy. That’s a long wait, and Eric can only hope his elected representatives more quickly approve sensible revisions to the city’s ill-conceived and destructive ADU ordinance.

Paul Krueger is a former senior producer at NBC7 San Diego and a resident of the Talmadge neighborhood.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

unwashedWalmartTHonG January 17, 2022 at 11:44 am

This situation becomes a teaching moment, does it not? People with money
& power sometimes just have to be taught that money & power are not equivalent to a bulldozer (like the bulldozer that killed Rachel Corey).
Were I in Eric’s shoes, I would lay out a beautiful design on the patio. I’m thinking perhaps some nice red brick inlay. First, with a concrete saw cut out a large rectangle. Grade the dirt. Lay out your beautiful design with care.
I suggest Fuck You with red brick. Make it face the offending property.
If you are concerned about this specific message, then you may consult an
expert on the word Fuck. Refer to page 34 & 35 of this classic piece of literature: The Rape of the A*P*E* by Allan Sherman. Published in 1973 by
Playboy Press.
When the project is complete, invite multiple groups to convene at your
patio for meetings. Perfect opportunity for a humanist group, the local PTA, church groups, and the like to visit your home & listen to rational thoughts regarding ADUs.
I would further quote from another great piece of literature, Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman, but someone stole my copy.


unwashedWalmarTthonG January 17, 2022 at 11:46 am

Rachel Corrie


Deb Porter January 17, 2022 at 1:41 pm

what can we do about this?????.. it’s happening now in OB as well as in other SD neighborhoods and its a travesty for those who worked hard for year to finally get a SF home in a nice neighborhood….


Dave St John January 18, 2022 at 2:07 pm

Wow, so Todd Gloria doesn’t show up for this neighborhood meeting , but I saw on the Jeff Zevely report last night on Channel 8 that Todd had time to give an “interview” to a child.

The interview was probably just a stunt for the upcoming election. Sad that officials can’t fix the mess they made or even put on an appearance that they care. Additionally Todd wasn’t wearing a mask and he got close to some guy. Some leader!


Paul Webb January 18, 2022 at 3:59 pm

To those who think this is much ado about nothing, please note that most of the projects that are coming in front of the Project Review Committee of the Peninsula Community Planning Board are proposals to build ADUs. I suspect that this is true of other communities, as well. Some of them are well designed, but others are a mess. Almost all are deficient in what a reasonable person would think is adequate parking, and some actually remove existing spaces.

If there are one or two of these on a block, I don’t think it would be a problem. But with the number that we have seen proposed lately and the prospects of even more in the future, I think that we can assume that ADUs are going to be one of the dominant development patters in the future. This does not bode well for our neighborhoods.


kh January 18, 2022 at 7:49 pm

There’s an ADU project coming to the OB planning board tomorrow that has nearly a 30’x30’ stucco wall built on the property line. How’d you’d like to be their neighbor? And it’s legal.


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