May 4, 2009

Oh, the Hypocrisy Of It All

Note: click on picture to make it larger.

On Tuesday night, the Poway city council will go through their annual ritual of designating "inappropriate" areas for second dwelling units (commonly called "granny flats") in single family zones.  The state of California encourages cities to include second dwelling units as part of their housing element.  

Second-units (i.e., in-law apartments, granny flats, or accessory apartments) provide an important source of affordable housing.  By promoting the development of second-units, a community may ease a rental housing deficit, maximize limited land resources and existing infrastructure and assist low and moderate-income homeowners with supplemental income.  Second-units can increase the property tax base and contribute to the local affordable housing stock.  Government Code Section 65852.2 (a.k.a. second-unit law) was enacted in 1982 and has been amended four times (1986, 1990, 1994 and 2002) to encourage the creation of second units while maintaining local flexibility for unique circumstances and conditions. 

The state law governing granny flats allows cities to enact an ordinance designating where the granny flats can be located and what zoning regulations (height, setbacks, etc) will apply. 

Second-unit law was created and amended within the context of providing “…a minimum of limitation…”, so localities “…may exercise the maximum degree of control over local zoning matters…” (Government Code 65800).  Chapter 1062 requires localities to consider applications for the development of second-units ministerially with the intent to create second-units and not constrain their development. 

The state allows cities to prohibit the development of granny flats only under "limited circumstances".

Under limited circumstances, a locality may prohibit the development of second-units in single- family or multifamily zones (Government Code Section 65852.2(c)).  This prohibition may only be enacted if a locality adopts formal written findings based on substantial evidence identifying the adverse impact of second-units on the public health, safety, and welfare and acknowledging such action may limit housing opportunities in the region (Section 65852.2(c)).  Prior to making findings of specific adverse impact, the agency should explore feasible alternatives to mitigate and avoid the impact. Written findings should also acknowledge efforts to adopt an ordinance consistent with the intent of second-unit law.   

Poway's ordinance does not meet the intent of the state law. Every year, Poway makes the case to limit granny flats because the city does not have "adequate water, sewer, or other municipal services for second dwelling units, or in which second dwelling units would have a significant adverse impact upon traffic flow."  The city has determined that the water/sewage system is oversubscribed and the road conditions are terrible pretty much everywhere, so it has limited second dwelling units to areas that are served by septic systems AND that are located on the far fringes of the city- north of Blue Sky, south of the industrial park, east of SR67 or west of Pomerado. 

What I find so hypocritical about Poway's stance, is that there is always enough water and sewer capacity when they want to build something. Why is it that a couple of granny flats are going to put our fragile water/sewer system over the edge, but a 3-story hotel, another big box store or a golf course, complete with ballroom and gardens are no problem at all? When Maderas golf course and clubhouse was built, it was supposed to use recycled water. But it never has. Maderas built wells and used so much water that all the neighbor's wells dried up. So the city let Maderas have a portion of the raw water that was coming to Poway. When the approval for the raw water diversion to the golf course came before the council, the staff report gave it a negative declaration, meaning it didn't have an impact on the city. Hmmmm, millions of gallons of water to a golf course have no impact at all; but using hundreds of gallons of water for granny flats would do us in? 

We are at a Level 2 water shortage right now. The city will get 8% less water. Some people have asked the city for a comprehensive building moratorium.  The city doesn't want to go there. Instead, they plan to incorporate water saving measures in new development. The city will also build new affordable housing projects that will be water efficient. Could not the city also allow granny flats that are water efficient to be built in more areas? Why can one use be mitigated, but not the other?

Poway's second excuse for limiting granny flats to the far fringes is that our roads are clogged with traffic.  The city's map shows that most roads are at a level of service (LOS) of D,E, or F. Level D is traffic that is frustratingly slow, Level E is bumper-to-bumper and Level F is beyond road rage. If traffic cannot be mitigated, the city is not supposed to approve a project. What do you think the chances are that the council will find some magic way to mitigate the traffic and approve a WalMart expansion?  How is it that bringing in hundreds of out-of-town shoppers to one destination will not affect our bad traffic, but a couple of dozen scattered granny flats will clog up the roadways?  A city planner once told my husband that he could speed up traffic  and slow it down at the same time.  As I said before, if the city wants it, they will find a way. If they don't want it, they won't. And they don't want granny flats. This annual ritual is a bunch of BS, and the state's housing authority ought to call them out for violating the intent of the law.

What is really strange, is that Poway does approve second dwelling units. Sometimes. You need a friendly plan checker, who is willing to cross out the words "Guest House" on your plans and write in "Office/Workroom". Don't worry, you can put a full bathroom with a family sized 30 gallon water heater in a guesthouse workroom in Poway. As long as the bathroom is in a workroom and not a guesthouse, it won't stress the system.  You can even build the guesthouse workroom out in your front setback if you have 3 friends on the council. Rules are for schmucks.  And to keep the riff-raff out of certain neighborhoods

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