New Rules for Santa Cruz County Accessory Dwelling Units

New Accessory Dwelling Unit Rules for Santa Cruz County

New Rules for Accessory Dwelling Units in California

In September 2016 Governor Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1069, which introduced a series of changes that limit the requirements local jurisdictions can place on the construction of Accessory Dwelling Units, otherwise known as “Granny units”. The intention behind the law was to make it easier to build ADUs, which tend to be a more affordable type of housing, and are seen by many housing and business advocacy groups as low hanging fruit in the fight to develop greater housing supply.

ADUs make use of existing land, are cheaper to develop than other types of housing (such as single family homes or multi-unit apartments), and are easier to approve because they are not subject to many of the same approval processes that other housing developments are. Furthermore, many local jurisdictions already have ordinances in place outlining ADU construction.

The main barriers to building more ADUs, like most housing products, are that local jurisdictions tend to over regulate their construction, oftentimes resulting in high compliance costs that can prove to be too cost prohibitive to the average homeowner; and entrenched neighborhood resistance to increased density. SB 1069 aims to address both this issues by limiting the type of regulations local jurisdictions can impose upon homeowners, streamlining local approval processes, and in some cases outright removing local control mechanisms.

Santa Cruz County was in the midst of updating its ADU ordinance when SB1069 was passed, and thus was able to reorient its approach to become one of the first local jurisdictions to react to the state mandate. A summary of the key changes is provided below.

  • All permit applications for new ADUs are now approved by a ministerial process, rather than a public hearing process. This means that a homeowner interested in building an ADU, who has met all of the County requirements and submitted site plans, should have a reasonable expectation of certainty that their application will be approved.
    SB1069 also mandates that any application submitted must be approved or denied within 120 days
  • The County can no longer deny an ADU permit based upon a lack of available parking, and cannot require additional parking as a condition of approval.
  • New ADUs do not require a sprinkler system if the main dwelling does not have a sprinkler system.
  • Special districts (such as water or fire districts) can no longer require that homeowners purchase a second water meter to build an ADU. Though this change is being challenged in court.
  • ADUs can now be built on any lot that allows for a single family home, regardless of size or zoning.
  • ADUs built on top of existing structures, such as a garage, do not require a public hearing and are now are subject to the same ministerial approval process.
  • Rear setbacks have been reduced to a maximum of 5 feet for ADUs built on top of existing structures.
  • Additional sewer system requirements cannot be imposed on rural parcels of less than one acre that already have a single family home, unless a County Health Officer rules that it would have significant impacts on local water quality.

The County is currently conducting a survey on the new ADU changes, and is hoping to collect responses before March 14th. You can take the survey here:

This article has been provided courtesy of Robert Singleton, Policy Analyst with the Santa Cruz County Business Council.

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