YIMBY Action Stance on Supervisor Peskin’s ADU Legislation

Open letter to the San Francisco Planning Commission

San Francisco Planning Commissioners
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102

April 9, 2017

Dear Commissioner,

Supervisor Peskin’s new ordinance proposal offers us a second chance to get Accessory Dwelling Unit legislation right. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are a fantastic, low-impact way to add housing distributed throughout every neighborhood. Small, safe “granny flats” gently distribute density into neighborhoods — especially in neighborhoods that have not been shouldering their fair share of our city housing needs. Let’s not waste this opportunity.

Bringing our city ordinance into compliance with State Accessory Dwelling Unit legislation is urgently needed. But this proposal does not get us there.

The state ADU law explicitly — in FOUR consecutive provisions — tells us that local ordinances that are more restrictive that the state law will not be tolerated.[1] The state house is already busy crafting legislation that would reign in bad faith efforts by municipalities to constrain the addition of ADUs, such as San Francisco’s ordinances.

The State ADU law enables the construction of ADUs in any single family home. The local legislation approves only “single-family zoning districts.” Single family homes located in single family or any other kind of zoning districts do in fact qualify for State ADUs. A single family home is a single family home, whether it is zoned RH1 or RM-3. If we truly want to address the so-called problem of owners converting multifamily homes into single “Monster” homes, ADU legislation is the perfect way to encourage these large estates to become multifamily housing. Any single family home needs the ability to add an ADU.

Additionally, the speedy approval the new ordinance proposal gives to ADUs is not the same as ministerial approval as required by state law. Ministerial approval eliminates opportunities for obstructionist CEQA appeals and other nonsense. While the speedy approval process is an improvement, the new ordinance still leaves room for CEQA appeals and Discretionary Review to be used to halt the production of these low-impact units. To comply with state law, ministerial approval must be granted to all ADUs.

ADUs don’t cast the unholy shadows so many San Franciscans fear. They don’t create mega developments. They are often “naturally affordable” and exactly the kind of low-hanging fruit we should be enabling everywhere. There is no reason to let ADUs be held hostage to a cumbersome process.

The most obvious way ADUs are being held hostage to a cumbersome process is with neighborhood notification, which is encouraging NIMBYism. The neighborhood notification for these gentle infill projects is encouraging neighbors to file frivolous Discretionary Reviews, clogging up Planning and slowing down housing production. Even the threat of nonsense procedures is a disincentive to housing production by incurring lawyer fees and other delay costs.

Infill under existing deck or rear extensions at the ground floor shouldn’t trigger neighborhood notice. We should treat adding an ADU the same way we treat all other extensions, and not encourage neighborhood opposition. Now we have property owners who want to add ADUs getting caught up in neighborhood notice and obstructionist NIMBY neighbors holding ADUs hostage. At bare minimum, if the city is unable to recognize that these ADUs must be granted ministerial approval, we should accept the amendments to allow rear extensions and ADUs under decks without requiring neighborhood notice.

More than being out of compliance with State law, our current local ADU legislation misses a major opportunity. We have a chance now to fix this and make our local ADU legislation even more effective to gently add much needed housing, especially as it relates to ADUs in multifamily housing.

The current proposal does not eliminate the harmful cap we placed on the number of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) that can be added in single to four unit housing. The previously passed ADU legislation extended this foolish cap to seismic retrofit soft sites, eliminating this source of new, safe, low-impact housing. The cap serves no purpose except to stop us from adding density.

If the ADUs are built to safe building code, why shouldn’t we add them wherever we can as much as we can? Adding just one in a large building, when we could be safely adding more is a shameful waste.

Additionally, this legislation does not deal with the absurdity of banning ADU construction if there has been a “temporary eviction” — a temporary eviction in which the landlord pays rent and relocation cost and guarantees the tenant the right of return. This is completely absurd. If a pipe bursts, temporary evictions protect tenants by forcing landlords to care for the tenant while bringing the building back up to code and making the unit safe. This could disincentivize landlords from doing major repairs, or from relocating their tenants during major repairs. To disallow ADUs for buildings that have ever had temporary evictions is complete lunacy.

Lastly, fees on ADUs are completely counterproductive. Other localities actually pay people to create ADUs, that’s how incredibly valuable they are to the public good. We are behind the times when it comes to housing production. It’s time to catch up.

ADUs, whether added by seismic retrofits or not, do not have a disruptive impact on the streetscape. They do not change the exterior of a building in any significant way. Neighborhood character evangelists have no reason to make these units harder to build or restrict the number of units.

We can fix this. Please accept Supervisor Farrell and Supervisor Sheehy’s amendments and ask for further improvements this legislation.


Laura Clark
Executive Director

[1] “null and void.” (Gov. Code § 65852.1(a)(4)) “No other local ordinance, policy, or regulation shall be the basis for the denial of a building permit or a use permit under this subdivision.” (Gov. Code § 65852.1(a)(5)) “No additional standards, other than those provided in this subdivision, shall be utilized or imposed,…” (Gov. Code § 65852.2(A)(6)) Rather, the local agency may amend its ordinance to incorporate other provisions applicable to ADUs “if these provisions are consistent with the limitations of this subdivision.” (Gov Code § 65852.1(a)(7))

Originally published at https://yimbyaction.org on April 11, 2017.