Challenging Mayor Gloria’s Bogus Claims About ADUs

by on May 13, 2022 · 11 comments

in San Diego

By Geoff Hueter  –Chairperson, Neighbors For A Better San Diego

Partly thanks to a recent CBS8 news story about neighbors fighting back against multi-unit ADUs in the College East area, Neighbors For a Better San Diego has a lot of engagement. (An ADU is an accessory dwelling unit, sometimes called a “granny flat.”)

In the news story, Eric Rosenzweig was interviewed and spoke for many residents when he outlined the very negative consequences of building eight-unit apartments in older neighborhoods that were designed, engineered, and built for single-family homes.

Eric and our board member Paul Krueger highlighted these concerns in their interviews with CBS8 reporter Heather Hope.

Mayor Todd Gloria and his staff declined CBS8’s request for an on-camera interview in which they could address those concerns and promote what they see as the benefits of the current ordinance. (The Mayor and District 9 Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera have also spurned several requests to talk with neighbors in areas most impacted by multi-unit ADUs.)

You’ve heard the arguments before, but they’re always worth repeating:

  • So-called “by-right” development rules allow investors to build multi-unit, multi-story ADUs without any design standards. There’s no notice, review, or input by neighbors most impacted by these structures.
  • The ADU ordinance allows the construction of ADUs in high-fire risk areas, posing a significant threat to lives and property, and hindering our fire department’s effort to prevent and control urban wild-fires.
  • Developers of these small one-two bedroom/one bath ADUs don’t pay the Development Impact Fees (DIFs) required on most other residential and apartment construction, which contributes to the city’s $4+ billion infrastructure fund deficit. DIFs are a crucial source of funding for street and sidewalk repair, water and sewer line maintenance and replacement, new police and fire stations, parks, playgrounds and other amenities, already lacking in our older neighborhoods.
  • Not a single unit of very-low or low-income rental housing has resulted from the city’s ADU “bonus” program, despite repeated claims that the “bonus” density clause would “reduce racial and class housing inequities”.
  • The purchase of single-family homes by investors and land speculators — and the conversion of those properties into multi-unit apartments — shuts out first-time and move-up buyers and permanently shrinks the city’s already limited supply of for-sale single-family housing.
  • State codes and our city’s ill-defined “Transit Priority Area” map exempt builders from providing off-street parking for any of the additional residents.
  • Developers are “clear-cutting” mature shade trees and other landscaping on these properties, in direct conflict with the city’s much-publicized commitment to aggressively expand our urban tree canopy to fight global warming.
  • The current ADU ordinance lacks any short- or long-term review of the cumulative, negative impacts that multi-unit ADUs have on public safety and quality-of-life in our single-family neighborhoods.”

Instead, the Mayor’s communications staff gave CBS8 a written statement, which yet again demonstrates their lack of understanding of their own ADU ordinance, its negative impacts on our residential neighborhoods, and its failure to create any truly “affordable” rental housing.

Here’s the text of Mayor Gloria’s response, crafted by Communications staffer David Rolland:

“We have to build more housing. From addressing homelessness to ensuring our children and grandchildren can afford to stay in this city, the answer is building more housing that San Diegans can actually afford.

That means the City must incentivize building affordable housing in locations where it makes sense, such as near transit corridors, and ADUs are an important part of this strategy. The price of not addressing our housing crisis is far higher than the impact of a few additional granny flats on a particular street. Therefore, the City will not be entertaining a request for a moratorium on ADUs.”

This most recent statement from the Mayor defending the ordinance confuses two important, but distinctly different issues: our city’s lack of affordable rental apartments, and the cost and scarcity of for-sale homes and condos.

The “affordable housing” that David Rolland refers to (which our data confirms is NOT affordable by any standard) are Accessory Dwelling Units. These small, one- or two-bedroom rentals do not contribute anything to our region’s limited and very expensive inventory of for-sale condos and homes.

The multi-unit ADUs currently being built by investors and land speculators are not a solution to the lack of for-sale housing, and in fact, are actually shrinking our available stock of for-sale housing by converting existing single-family homes into multi-unit rentals.

Furthermore, the city’s ADU ordinance has not “incentivized” the construction of affordable rentals. Our data confirm that developers/ speculators have not built a single unit of very-low or low-income rental housing in their multi-unit ADU projects. Instead, they continue to game the “bonus unit” aspect of the ordinance to build effectively market-rate rentals.

Referring to a six-unit project on a single-family lot in Talmadge, Jared Basler, a consultant for ADU developers, admitted in a public forum that the project is “absurd, from an affordability standpoint.”

Most importantly, the Mayor’s office distorts the facts to claim that the widespread pushback against the current ordinance is fueled by the construction of “a few additional granny flats on a particular street.”

As the CBS8 story explains, Eric Rosenzweig is protesting the construction of an eight-unit ADU rental complex on a single-family property abutting his home, based on the property being on a mesa overlooking but not accessible to the trolley. (Another, equally ill-conceived development is going in across the street.)

Projects like these — built without parking, reasonable setbacks from neighboring properties, landscaping, or the payment of much-needed Development Impact Fees — cannot be farther from the accepted definition of a “granny flat.”

The vast majority of San Diego ADUs are built by homeowners. Eric and other homeowners in his situation have never opposed the construction of an ADU and/or a Junior ADU on anyone’s property.

And, contrary to the Mayor’s mischaracterization of our efforts, Neighbors For A Better San Diego has never sought a blanket moratorium on ADU/JADU construction that conforms with state legislation, which was properly designed to regulate and promote “granny flats” as a source of housing for family members or extra income for homeowners.

We have, however, advocated for sensible revisions to the city’s poorly-written ADU code, which wrongly encourages investors and land speculators to transform single-family lots into multi-unit apartment complexes in neighborhoods designed, engineered, and built for single-family homes.

If Mayor Gloria is serious about encouraging more ADUs, he should create incentives that would assist homeowners instead of promoting policies that are only feasible to investors.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

korla eaquinta May 13, 2022 at 12:39 pm

The unintended consequences of these relaxed and ludicrous ADU regulations do not allow first time home buyers to enter the market. Developers and big money price our children and grandchildren out of the housing market. They can’t even come close to living in the neighborhoods they grew up in or anywhere else in San Diego for that matter. AND approval is all ministerial. The community has no option to weigh in…

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kh May 13, 2022 at 1:01 pm

Add to the list, that ADUs are not prohibited from being built on-site with short-term vacation rentals.

There are instances of property owners or developers building a ADU, living/renting it long-term, then listing the main residence full-time on Airbnb.

This gives development/housing subsidies to the owner, without providing any new housing. And these ADUs can up to 1,200 sf and are often larger and taller than the main residence.

During a recent Coastal Commission hearing, they actually promoted this scenario! People requested that Jen Campbell remove this loophole from the vacation rental ordinance by disallowing properties with ADUs on them, but she refused.

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Paul Krueger May 14, 2022 at 6:09 pm

As they say, “You’re entitled to you own opinions, but your own facts”, even, or especially, if you’re the Mayor of California’s third largest city.

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Sinabbon May 15, 2022 at 1:13 pm

I’m tired of the mayor and our council president pretending this is about “Equity”. The reality is that the neighborhoods in Southeast San Diego – in Councilmember Montgomery’s District 4 – are MOST at risk from investors buying up single-family homes.

This is a direct result of the policies that Mayor Gloria, Council President Elo-Rivera, and Councilmember Montgomery support.

The percentage of homes bought by outside investors in 2021 for all of San Diego was around 9% (not good!)… but in Councilmember Montgomery’s district, some neighborhoods are averaging 20%!

And CM Montgomery voted for these policies – twice, all in the name of “Equity”.

The available single-family homes and the opportunity they offer for generational wealth to members of those communities are being transformed into corporate-owned investment properties as a direct result of their own elected official’s policies. Residents of these communities will become life-long renters, unable to invest in the neighborhoods they love and grew up in.

What our own City Hall is doing to San Diego’s single-family neighborhoods and to homeownership itself is nothing short of shameful.

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Jean Hoeger May 15, 2022 at 1:47 pm

This is one of the most disgraceful comments I think I have heard from a San Diego mayor in a long time “The price of not addressing our housing crisis is far higher than the impact of a few additional granny flats on a particular street.” A few additional granny flats? on a street? Does Mayor Gloria every get off his high horse and out of his ivory tower to actually learn how many NOT “granny flats” have been built? In the College Area alone there are about 300 massive 1200 square foot ADUs taking up entire backyards or built 2 stories high incorporating the one time garage (thus further reducing parking), concentrated on about 20 streets.

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Alex Zukas May 15, 2022 at 1:50 pm

What the ADU ordinance shows is that the San Diego City Council has, once again, been captured by investment capital and developer interests. It used to be that Republicans were the ones to cater to investment capital but now it is corporate democrats who profess progressive ideas but whose actions do not match their rhetoric. They expect the same capitalist market that got us into this affordability problem will solve the problem when experience proves otherwise. While many of the city’s projects could come under the heading of “green washing” since they purport to be working to reduce environmental problems (like building densely in a “transit priority area” that cannot get anything like the majority of residents to work or shopping on a daily basis that will only make every environmental problem worse), the rhetoric around building dense ADUs is more like “hog washing.”

Also, one doesn’t need to be an Einstein to see that “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” but apparently it helps (since the quote is attributed to Einstein). That means, the for-profit market will not solve the affordability crisis in ownership or renting. Building more for-profit housing for ownership or rentals will only make the problem worse. Community land trusts funded by city grants (like the kind they give to places like Family Health Centers) but run by residents would be one place to start building affordable housing as would publicly-funded and publicly-run housing for low-income rentals and potential ownership. After all, if the city of San Diego can deed the property at what is now Liberty Station to Corky McMillan for $1.00, it can deed other property to people for $1.00 or less who would build affordable housing on a non-profit basis.

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Christine Smith May 15, 2022 at 2:13 pm

Additionally, what drives property prices up is increased housing size on the lot. We see this repeatedly on the Peninsula. A small 800-1200 sq ft house is sold for $1M. Then a developer builds a 3200-3600 sq ft home on that lot that maxes out the floor-area-ratio (FAR) and turns around and sells it for >$3m. The ADU code now allows that same developer to max out the primary residence FAR and then add an additional 800 sq ft ADU, which will just drive prices higher. What we need are incentives to keep house square footage small so that prices stay within reach of middle income families.

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Newell Booth May 15, 2022 at 3:41 pm

Mayor Gloria needs to quit hiding behind his planning department. His statement and actions clearly indicate that he does not understand the impact and details of his Housing for All initiatives. Unless he changes, San Diegans need to find candidates to run against him who will listen to reasonable and thoughtful recommendations from their constituents.

In the meantime, his policies are a major cause of the unaffordability of homes for first-time home buyers.

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Kathy McClelland May 15, 2022 at 4:30 pm

Mayor Gloria talks about homelessness which concerns us all but homeless people cannot afford to rent an ADU or any housing without subsidies and a commercial investor does not profit by renting at a super low rate.

Mayor Gloria talks about making San Diego homeownership affordable but he is incentivizing commercial investors to buy up single family homes and turn them into rental properties, forever taking them off the market to future homeowners.

These are not difficult concepts to grasp. One has to wonder why Mayor Gloria is in reality only supporting commercial investors and not SERIOUSLY concerning himself with the plight of first time homeowners, single family residents or our homeless population.

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Danna Givot May 15, 2022 at 7:57 pm

For the particular streets referred to in the article, the two ADU Bonus projects represent a 33% increase in the housing density! It is incredibly bad planning. And there are no development impact fees (DIFs) collected for these two projects – nothing for sewer and water line upgrades, stormwater, parks, the library, roads, etc. The developers get a free ride – no parking required and the immediate neighbors will deal with the fallout and the taxpayers city-wide will pay the costs of growth while the developers tally their profits.
We, the taxpayers, are subsidizing the costs of growth now because that is what the Mayor and City Council have set up by waiving so many development impact fees (DIFS)….on ADUs, on SB9 developments, on Complete Communities developments. The City doesn’t have to waive most of these fees – it is doing so VOLUNTARILY.
And in November, we, the taxpayers, will be asked to agree to tax increases to fund infrastructure deficits, especially for stormwater drainage. The City could be collecting fees from developers, but they’d rather ask us. My answer is “NO, COLLECT DIFs FROM THE DEVELOPERS. MAKE GROWTH PAY ITS OWN WAY.”

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Lorna Zukas May 15, 2022 at 8:58 pm

Actions speak louder than words. The Mayor and City Council support developer profits over low-income housing. The city’s deregulation policies have led to an uptick in investor purchased housing in San Diego. Nine percent of all housing sold in San Diego in 2021 went to investors, who paid above the asking price. They are buying in neighborhoods that should be producing naturally affordable housing for renters and first time-buyers. Instead, they are turning one home into six units and more than doubling the value of the property. The units themselves are not affordable for low-waged workers.

The mayor and city council choose to support developers, who build for their own profit, and accept meager numbers of low-income housing. If the city were serious about having adequate affordable housing units, it might ensure that workers were paid a living wage that afforded them opportunities to make rent, or it could institute rent control or outlaw all short-term rentals (STRs). Getting rid of STRs would immediately add 10,000+ housing units to the SD market and alleviate much of the housing shortage quickly. City leaders argue that more housing will reduce rents; ending STRs would help to end homelessness and provide more affordable housing immediately. If housing is a human right, as some city leaders believe, they should do all they can to put housing people above profits from housing. They don’t do this; instead, they promote inappropriate development in neighborhoods ruining the quality of life for the people who live there.

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