February 21, 2024
An ADU complicated within the Golden Hill neighborhood of San Diego on Nov. 2, 2023. Picture by Adriana Heldiz, CalMatters

Within the minds of most Californians, accent dwelling models — ADUs, quick — call to mind phrases like “small,” “refined” and “cute.”

None of which describe the side-by-side ADU duplexes on E Road. 

CalMatters Logo

Perched on the fringe of San Diego’s fascinating Golden Hill neighborhood, there’s nothing dainty or diminutive about these three-story buildings. “Yard cottage” is one other time period used to explain accent dwelling models, however these are out entrance, virtually hiding the five-unit multiplex to which they’re technically “accent.” 

Like dozens of small and not-so-small condominium buildings throughout San Diego, the buildings on E Road are ADUs in just one method: They have been permitted beneath town’s ADU Bonus Program. 

Town’s one-of-a-kind ordinance gives landlords a one-for-one deal. If they comply with assemble an ADU and maintain the hire low sufficient for San Diegans making beneath a sure revenue, they’re robotically permitted to construct a second “bonus” unit, which they will hire at no matter worth they like. 

In elements of town removed from public transit, the 2021 metropolis program gives a one-off: Alongside the principle home and the 2 ADUs already permitted beneath state legislation, town permits for a most of 5 models on one property.

However in bus-and train-adjacent “transit precedence” areas — a designation that covers a lot of San Diego’s city core — a landlord can alternate inexpensive and bonus models many times and once more. Technically, there are limits. Metropolis zoning set a most top on buildings, and a extra sophisticated regulatory system caps how a lot constructed floorspace can dominate a parcel. 

However you’ll be able to squeeze in an terrible lot of ADUs inside these parameters. Therefore, the venture on E Road: A single household lot with 9 condominium models on it, 4 of them ADUs, two of them inexpensive. And that’s not an particularly extravagant use of this system.

A typical ADU bonus venture utility consists of between 4 and seven extra models, in line with knowledge offered by San Diego’s Improvement Providers Division. Initiatives with a dozen or extra models will not be extraordinary. The biggest proposed venture so far, deliberate for town’s gentrifying majority Black and Latino Encanto neighborhood, is 148 models. 

David Pearson, whose design store, PALO, designed the E Road duplexes, mentioned his largest permitted venture, positioned behind an present 76-unit condominium constructing, comes with 36 “ADUs.”

There’s a phrase for 36 models stacked in row on high of each other. Even Pearson can’t assist however grin and use scare quotes when he makes use of the time period “ADU.” Town’s “artful little maneuver” permits builders to “successfully construct an condominium constructing out of ADUs.” 

“It’s actually ADUs solely in title,” he mentioned. 

David Pearson, co-founder PALO, in Imperial Seaside on Nov. 2, 2023. PALO, an structure firm, helps householders in San Diego construct several types of housing. Picture by Adriana Heldiz, CalMatters

Relying in your perspective, San Diego’s “artful little maneuver” is both an ingeniously intelligent use of state legislation to supply a a lot wanted enhance to the native housing provide or a sneak effort to foist an insupportable diploma of development and density upon unsuspecting residents whereas solely offering a token diploma of affordability. 

This system is simply starting to take off. A complete of 159 tasks with 1,200 models have been submitted to town, as of October. Lower than half of the tasks have really been permitted. Far fewer have damaged floor. Even so, supporters, detractors, researchers and policymakers are sitting up and taking notice. 

“San Diego might have came across to the quickest resolution to producing a variety of ‘lacking center’ housing,” mentioned Andrew Wofford, a graduate scholar researcher on the UC Berkeley Heart for Neighborhood Innovation who has been evaluating this system for the state’s housing division. 

“Lacking center” describes an approachable (and, one hopes, extra inexpensive) scale of improvement that occupies a center floor between uber-dense highrises and sprawling single-family properties. Including an ADU behind an present residence represents the mildest housing of this kind. The novelty of San Diego’s program is in redefining “ADU” from a selected constructing sort to a broad privileged regulatory chute into which builders at the moment are inspired to throw small condominium buildings.

First: An indication in opposition to the development of ADUs or granny flats within the Talmadge neighborhood of San Diego on Nov. 5, 2023. Final: An indication in opposition to the development of ADUs or granny flats within the Talmadge neighborhood of San Diego on Nov. 5, 2023. Images by Adriana Heldiz, CalMatters

In the meantime, native critics of this system have already begun to mobilize. Indicators inveighing in opposition to “granny towers” and “yard flats” are frequent garden ornaments in lots of the metropolis’s residential neighborhoods. The native backlash has already spilled over to different areas of native housing coverage and now threatens Mayor Todd Gloria’s broader “Sure In My Yard” imaginative and prescient.

Even some supporters are stunned by this system’s ambition. Denise Pinkston mentioned her expertise with native housing politics would have led her to rule out something fairly so far-reaching. A San Francisco actual property developer and the go-to ADU whisperer for state lawmakers hoping to hop aboard the “yard revolution,” Pinkston can also be founder and board president of the Casita Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for ADU-friendly coverage.

However wanting on the outcomes up to now in San Diego, she paraphrases Shakespeare: “What’s in a reputation?”

“Really, it doesn’t actually matter what you name it,” mentioned Pinkston. “What you get is extra housing.”

San Diego: ‘Above and past’

California legislators have spent the final half-decade passing invoice after invoice to encourage householders to construct yard cottages. 

Now, wherever in California, metropolis allow assessment is proscribed to 60 days. Improvement charges and construction-cramping setback necessities are capped. Public hearings and design opinions are banned. In lots of instances, so are the impositions of pricey parking, landscaping and storage necessities. 

Consequently, California has skilled an ADU growth. Whereas different, extra bold and controversial pro-housing insurance policies have flamed out within the state Capitol or made it via the legislative gauntlet solely to produce much less spectacular outcomes in the true world, ADUs now make roughly one-in-six of all new models permitted. 

Some cities have discovered methods to quietly impede these efforts. Others have rolled together with them. None have gone fairly as far as San Diego with its bonus program.

Leaning in on development-friendly housing coverage is on model for San Diego. Town has a historical past of serving as a laboratory of YIMBYism for California. 

Earlier this yr, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a invoice ramping up the added density afforded to condominium tasks in alternate for extra inexpensive models. It was modeled on a San Diego ordinance. When state lawmakers handed a legislation banning native parking necessities for a lot of new housing tasks, they have been following San Diego’s lead. And as California rolled out its numerous legal guidelines greasing the skids for ADUs, San Diego handed its personal guidelines that greased them additional.

“In a variety of cities, the one reforms they’re doing on housing are these which can be triggered by the state,” mentioned Colin Mother or father, a state Meeting candidate and CEO of Flow into San Diego, a nonprofit that advocates for public transit and dense housing. “San Diego has finished a bunch of issues that go above and past what the state reforms require.”

The ADU bonus program is the newest instance. 

The College Heights neighborhood of San Diego, the place there are a number of ADU models, on Nov. 5, 2023. Picture by Adriana Heldiz, CalMatters

In 2019, state lawmakers handed a invoice requiring native governments to “incentivize and promote” the constructing of extra inexpensive ADUs. Metropolis planners in San Diego took this directive to coronary heart in a method that no different metropolis did.

To followers of this system, San Diego gives a coverage lesson that goes far past yard cottages. Cities don’t “must reinvent the wheel to construct extra housing,” mentioned Muhammad Alameldin, a researcher on the Terner Heart for Housing Innovation, who wrote an summary on San Diego’s ADU program earlier this yr. The promise of practically limitless density is an irresistible perk for a lot of builders. Cities that need extra of a selected sort of housing — or extra housing generally — can tack on an uncapped density bonus and watch the allow purposes flood in, he mentioned. 

“They discovered the system.”

CalMatters is a public curiosity journalism enterprise dedicated to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it issues.