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  City Council Set to Vote on Granny Units With Front Yards Converted to Parking
November 2, 2003
  Over a decade ago, the California legislature made it public policy to encourage the creation of smaller second units in existing single family neighborhoods to augment the housing supply. Section 65852.150 of the Government Code states:

“The Legislature finds and declares that second units are a valuable form of housing in California.  Second units provide housing for family members, students, the elderly, in-home health care providers, the disabled, and others, at below market prices within existing neighborhoods.  Homeowners who create second units benefit from added income, and an increased sense of security.    It is the intent of the Legislature that any second-unit ordinances adopted by local agencies have the effect of providing for the creation of second units and that provisions in these ordinances relating to matters including unit size, parking, fees and other requirements, are not so arbitrary, excessive, or burdensome so as to unreasonably restrict the ability of homeowners to create second units in zones in which they are authorized by local ordinance.”

Recently, the legislature further restricted the ability of local jurisdictions to place conditions on the creation of second units unless those jurisdictions adopted their own regulations within 120 days of receiving their first application. Another major change was the elimination of any discretionary review. The Richmond Planning Department submitted and the City Council approved the first reading of a revised second unit ordinance on October 28, 2003.

I was distressed to discover that the existing ordinance, as well as the revised ordinance, allowed paving front yards for parking for second units – which the City is now required to permit ministerially under state law. Planning Director Barry Cromartie argued that paving a front yard would constitute a change to the building exterior and therefore (under his verbal interpretation) require design review. I asked Mr. Cromartie and the City Council to adopt more specific language, but to no avail. When the vote was taken, I was the only one opposed. I had suggested that the wording be changed to allow parking in the rear yard instead of the front yard.

I don’t have a lot of faith in the Richmond Planning Department enforcing anything. There are probably more illegal second units already in Richmond than legal units. There certainly are in my neighborhood. Front yard paving and parking is becoming more widespread in Richmond, despite prohibitions in 15.04.810.032, the same chapter that has the fencing standards. We all know how well the Planning Department has enforced those.

At the October 28 meeting, Mr. Cromartie also argued that state law pre-empted the City from restricting front yard parking. On that, he was wrong. The statute states;

“(e) Parking requirements for second units shall not exceed one parking space per unit or per bedroom.  Additional parking may be required provided that a finding is made that the additional parking requirements are directly related to the use of the second unit and  are consistent with existing neighborhood standards applicable to  existing dwellings.  Off-street parking shall be permitted in setback  areas in locations determined by the local agency or through tandem  parking, unless specific findings are made that parking in setback  areas or tandem parking is not feasible based upon specific site or  regional topographical or fire and life safety conditions, or that it  is not permitted anywhere else in the jurisdiction.”

Some residents and property owners in Richmond would not like to see the City compelled to accept totally unrestricted open paved parking areas in front yards when an owner decides to create a second unit. If you agree, you may want to tell your City Council members before November 4.