Mayor Sam Abed is not a fan of Laura Hunter. He’s been especially critical of her since he found out that she had been on citizens’ advisory panel to the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which drew up the rules that Escondido must follow in order to comply with California’s Clean Water Act. I wrote about the Council majority’s objections to these rules before, https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/03/12/invective-and-ignorance/. I noted that these rules had been violated by Abed when he repaved the parking lot he owns at 540 W. Grand Ave. The San Diego Union Tribune published a comprehensive article on the matter: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/politics/sdut-abeds-parking-lot-skipped-stormwater-rules-2016jan24-story.html . So, it was not surprising when, at tonight’s City Council meeting, Abed allowed applause for other speakers under Oral Communications at the beginning of the meeting, but objected to the applause for Hunter as she finished her remarks. Abed doesn’t like applause for his critics. He’s a bit like Trump that way.
Hunter had asked the Council to reconsider the positions they had taken at their April 5th meeting on AB 805 and SB 54. I wrote about this meeting in my last blog. They did not reconsider their position. In fact, at the end of the meeting, in his SANDAG report, Abed complained that all the wonderful, great things accomplished by SANDAG were being ignored because of one miscalculation about Measure A. Guess Abed thinks that a miscalculation of $4 billion is a minor problem. As Hunter pointed out, SANDAG is out of control. She added the fact that Transnet I and II have been underfunded disasters, placing too much emphasis on cars and not enough on public transportation.
Item 12: Amendment to Article 70: Second Dwelling Units of the Escondido Zoning Code (AZ 16-0007) brought about an interesting discussion. Basically this was just and advisory item for the council describing the amendments to Article 70, now being developed by a sub-committee of the planning commission, to bring the Escondido’s zoning code into compliance with new state law. The new state law basically makes it much easier to build what they call accessory dwelling units (ADUs), AKA granny flats. State law makes it mandatory that approval of such units be ministerial—rather than going through the planning commission and city council. The new law requires such applications be considered within 120 days, requires one additional off street parking that can be tandem parking—which can be waived if the unit is within one-half mile of public transit, allows garage conversions, and setbacks of only five feet for rear and side yards of such additions. With a few exceptions, such additions will be exempt from CEQA requirements. Director of Community Development Bill Martin ended his presentation by noting that such ADUs would help the city provide more housing for low- and moderate-income households. After the planning commission subcommittee finished its work, he would report back to the Council. See https://www.escondido.org/Data/Sites/1/media/agendas/Council/2017/4-26-17CCAgendaPacket.pdf for more information on these changes.
Councilwoman Olga Diaz had lots of questions for Martin. How many stories would be allowed for such projects? Would the units be metered separately? Would such units be allowed on any lot size? What about units within Home Owner Association developments? Was there a limit to the number of bedrooms? Would studio apartments qualify? Was a separate entrance required? What actually made such an addition an ADU?
Martin said the planning commission subcommittee would have to work on all those issues, and he would have to get back to her, but he could answer one question, what made an addition qualify as an accessory unit was a kitchen.
The four public speakers on the issue all spoke in favor of the proposed amendments, speaking of the convenience of having a home for their parents on their property.
Councilman John Masson was a bit surprised that California would exempt these projects from CEQA requirements. What about storm water runoff? Would the city have any flexibility? He agreed with one of the public speakers who suggested that there should be a tiered system for the square-footage allowed for such ADUs, making larger units permissible when the lot size was greater.
Councilman Mike Morasco agreed that there should be a tiered code for the size of the ADUs. He wondered why the setbacks were reduced to only five feet. He noted that for many garage conversions there would be no room for tandem parking—what then? What were other cities doing? He grumbled that the city had spent a lot of time and money fighting illegal garage conversions.
Councilman Ed Gallo wondered what would happen if the city received ten applications for ADUs in the same neighborhood? No CEQA? He too thought garage conversions was going to create many problems, especially with parking. He also wondered about the set-back reduction—wasn’t that an issue of fire safety?
Diaz said that she was concerned about the time line for these amendments. She did not want the city to sit on the issue for six months. Martin hemmed and hawed a bit, but Diaz was able to get a commitment for bringing the issue being back before the council within two months. Diaz also expressed some concern about what would happen if neighbors didn’t like an ADU—she didn’t want the city to be in the middle of a law suit in such an instance.
As usual, I found it difficult to follow Abed’s arguments. But, as near as I could make out, it seemed to run along these lines. The state of California had caused the housing crisis by its over-regulation, and now was imposing this attempt to fix the crisis on Escondido. The state was now considering adding prevailing wages to building requirements that would further increase the price of housing. The affordability index in San Diego County was now 10%–only 10% of the population could afford to buy a home. The state had put us in this situation. The state had a haphazard approach to everything. When the city approved new housing, the developer had to mitigate everything—schools, roads, police and fire, infrastructure—everything. Would these ADUs have to do that? Martin replied that the types of fees charged for such additions were very limited. We already have parking issues, Abed continued his rant. The state is too harsh. The ordinance developed should meet the state requirement minimum, not more. The responsibility for land use issues should be decided by the local government only—not the state! Where does it end? The state is going in the wrong direction. Someone in Sacramento doesn’t have a clue about local issues—it was the local government that should make these decisions.
After Abed ended his tirade, Diaz said she though the change was a good idea. Masson wondered if Prop S would apply to the change—Martin replied that it would not, because there would be no change to the General Plan’s overall housing density. Morasco wondered if the fire sprinklers would be required for the new units. No, they would not. Gallo wondered if units over the garage, carriage houses, would be allowed. Yes they would. That was the end to the discussion of Item 12, no vote was required.
Abed blames the state for the housing crisis. I blame the growth industry—Realtors, developers, builders, banks, etc. Abed is a part of the growth industry. One of SANDAG’s endless themes is that we must add new jobs, so San Diegans will have more job opportunity. The problem is that new jobs always bring people in from outside the county to fill those jobs—there is never any guarantee that the new jobs will go to existing residents. More residents mean the need for more housing. More housing, more people, means a need for more jobs, and so the cycle continues. It is always a mystery to me how otherwise intelligent people think that there can be infinite growth in a finite area. It is time to change our thinking to a sustainable economy. Projects that Abed would support like Safari Highlands Ranch, that destroy, forever, natural habitat, should not even be on the drawing board at this point in time when our planet is undergoing the sixth extinction event. The fifth extinction event, the one that did in the dinosaurs, was probably caused by a large meteorite. The sixth is a very unnatural event, cause by human overpopulation and overuse of the planet’s resources. Granny flats will not destroy habitat, they will not need new roads, sewers, etc. They will add to traffic in a gradual way, and hopefully public transit will be improved to mitigate that increase.