Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 10, 2017

Little house in the backyard

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:00 am

Remember all the work that was done on the Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance by the Planning Board?  They came up with an okay compromise to actually make the ADU ordinance used more than once every decade.  It went to the City Council which essentially brought it back to its formerly useless state.  Seriously though, between 2010 and 2016 only two ADUs were built.  That’s pathetic.

Well the State had something to say about jurisdictions like Alameda’s that put so many requirements on ADU ordinances that render it practically useless.  So now the City staff is back before the Planning Board with modifications to the ADU ordinance to bring it into compliance with State rules.

Essentially the State rules effect the City’s ordinance in lots of ways but two very meaningful ways: minimum lot size and parking.  From the staff report:

Under State law, the ADU is accessory to the primary residential unit.  Therefore, the local land use regulations may require that the ADU respect the same development standards as the primary unit (e.g. same height limit, same setbacks, etc.), but local land use regulations cannot impose more restrictive standards for the ADU that do not apply to the main residential unit.

Under current AMC 30-4.1.a.9(c), ADUs are only permitted on properties with a lot size of 7,500 square feet.  The minimum required lot sizes in most Alameda neighborhoods for the primary residential unit is 5,000 or less. This regulation and similar local laws that limit housing density are now invalid under the recent State Legislation for the purpose of ADUs.  The draft amendments strike the minimum lot size requirement from the local regulations.  The result of the change is to allow an ADU on any residential lot that is occupied by a single family home.

Essentially Measure A’s each dwelling unit must use 2500 sq ft is null and void for ADU applications.


State law mandates that local governments have flexibility in parking configuration, by allowing tandem parking on an existing driveway and to permit parking in setback areas unless there are safety considerations. Furthermore, State law specifies that when an ADU displaces garage parking, that the replacement spaces be “in any configuration, including, but not limited to, as covered spaces, uncovered spaces, or tandem spaces.” Furthermore, State laws specify that ADUs must be exempt from parking requirements in any of the following situations:

•                     The ADU is located within one-half mile of public transit.

•                     The ADU is located within an architecturally and historically significant historic district.

•                     The ADU is part of the existing primary residence or an existing accessory structure.

•                     When on-street parking permits are required but not offered to the occupant of the accessory dwelling unit.

•                     When there is a car share vehicle located within one block of the accessory dwelling unit.

The City’s current regulations require a single, independent parking space for an ADU. In Alameda, most residential properties are within one-half mile of public transit.   The draft amendments bring the code into compliance with State Law by specifying that additional parking is not required for an ADU that meets any of the above criteria.

This was a big one, the City requiring that parking spaces not be tandem.  The State law does away with all parking requirements if the property meets any one of the bullets above.

The new ADU ordinances also bring up a host of other issues of conflicting regulations that currently exist in Alameda, it will be really interesting to see how the Planning Board study session seeks to resolve these conflicts.



  1. What is a “tandem” parking space?

    Comment by dave — April 10, 2017 @ 6:10 am

  2. One where the cars are parked one in front of the other instead of side by side.

    Comment by Angela — April 10, 2017 @ 6:56 am

  3. It will also be interesting to see how the Planning Board and City Council deals with one of that whole host of conflicting rules and regulations that tend to inhibit construction of accessory units. Large parts of Alameda are covered by restrictions that are as strong, if not stronger, than Measure A and the current set of conditions that a second unit application must meet to qualify for automatic issuance of permits to create an accessory unit. Those would be the CC&Rs and other binding rules or agreements that cover many large areas such as Bayport, Harbor Bay, etc., some of which are ideally situated towards public transit, including ferry, as compared with older areas of Alameda. Those areas generally have fewer multi-unit buildings as compared to other parts of Alameda that were developed earlier and not covered by modern CC&Rs (a prime feature of which are to place great discretion in the hands of architectural committee or the HOA itself with respect to any proposed construction or building alterations). Measure A or no Measure A, tighter or looser ADU ordinances, those areas are unlikely to see a significant number of accessory dwellings, if any at all, as the result of any change to the ADU ordinance, unless it also addresses, if possible, the power of the strongest HOAs. Put another way, the changes under discussion will likely only affect the older areas of Alameda. Perhaps it is a good thing that residents of these areas can buy or contract themselves out of being subject to density-promoting measures such as the ADU ordinance. Perhaps respecting the existing contractual agreements/CCRs amongst residents of newer developments (even if not particularly dense) would signal to developers and their future purchasers that they can be assured that what they think they are buying into now will also remain unchanged, thus incentivizing the developers to develop and the purchasers to purchase.

    Residents of older areas of Alameda that already have many permitted and un-permitted second units, even if they generally support loosening the standards for accessory units, may feel that their neighborhoods are already densely constructed and that the new rules (whether mandated by the state or not) should not have the effect of concentrating new accessory units in their neighborhoods, but rather should apply equally across the City. The power of an ADU ordinance is to take approval for ADUs that meet the conditions in the ordinance out of the hands of the Planning Board; Alameda’s ADU ordinance and, to my knowledge, the state law that essentially mandates adoption of such local ordinances do not address the parallel authority of local HOAs. (There may be constitutional implications if an such an ordinance had the effect of overriding the CCRs that govern recent developments, but we have seen other recent enactments that also have the effect of re-writing people’s contracts without major constitutional concern). For the ADU ordinance to truly apply equally across the City, however, it would have to do just that: take an ADU application that meets the conditions of the ordinance out of the hands of the local HOA that might otherwise have the power to prevent the ADU. Advocates of greater density generally might also feel that way. Then again, it might be more convenient not to raise this issue at all.

    Comment by MP — April 10, 2017 @ 7:41 am

    • These new houses have tiny or no yards. Where would you put the new units? Even if you changed the CC&Rs, it wouldn’t be of much practical use. But nice try at a diversion.

      Comment by BC — April 10, 2017 @ 8:24 am

      • Call it what you will, but first take a look around at Alameda and your premise. Plenty of second units have been added throughout the years (even before adoption of ADU policies at the state level) without increasing the exterior footprint of the existing house: the basement, the garage, upstairs/downstairs. In a 2500-3000 sq. ft. home, or smaller, even without a basement or touching the garage, are you saying there would never be room to partition off a 600-900 sq ft unit and add an exterior door?

        Comment by MP — April 10, 2017 @ 9:31 am

        • Between 2010 – 2016 only two (2) ADUs were built. I guess if two = plenty then yes, “plenty” were built in the last six years.

          The biggest setback to building ADUs in all areas of Alameda has been the on site parking requirements and the requirement that the parking not be tandem. A lot of State laws can supersede HOA rules, like rules about green lawns in drought conditions, so it will take someone in a neighborhood with an HOA to see which wins out: HOA or the State desire to increase the number of housing units.

          Comment by Lauren Do — April 11, 2017 @ 10:13 am

        • you’re right about the low number of ADUs permitted as such under the City ordinance. I meant only that it does not take an architectural feat to divide off a second unit, on a small or large lot, without adding exterior construction. During WWII in Alameda, all over the place, two story houses were converted into duplexes by replacing the front door with two doors and walling off first floor from the stairway, or converting the basement.

          As to the point about it taking an HOA member to test whether state law would require an HOA to permit a homeowner to build an ADU the meets the conditions of the ADU statute, I don’t think so. The HOA member can test all they want, but the answer is likely to be no, at least under the statute as amended. The state law only requires cities (a “local agency”) to have ordinances that ease ADU through the city’s planning regulations (as of right, if the plans meet the conditions in the statute). It does not have that same effect vis a vis HOAs/cc&rs except, perhaps, to the extent that the rules that govern development in the HOA are considered part of the city’s ordinances or the HOA an extension of the city or “local agency”. But I don’t think that is normally, if ever, the case. Part of the attraction of an HOA is that it can block what a city might otherwise permit in terms of second units or whatever else.

          So , someone might get a City permit to add an ADU, but would still run up against the HOA/cc&rs, which are not addressed by the state statute. The City could, but almost certainly will not, go further than the state statute and provide that the ADU ordinance supersedes HOA rules.

          Comment by MP — April 11, 2017 @ 1:16 pm

        • Just took a quick look at video of last night’s Planning Board where this was discussed for a couple of minutes. Someone from Harbor Bay apparently wrote in and was, understandably, concerned about the effect of the new law and proposed ordinance on his HOA. Allen Tai who is the _____________ from the Planning Dept. gave a good explanation. The state ADU law, as it exists now, tells cities the conditions under which they must permit ADUs; as it is written now, however, state law does not impair the (contractual) authority of HOAs to deny constituent homeowners permission to build ADUs. An HOA could decide in some form to allow ADUs (or any CCRs prohibiting them might be deemed waived through a failure to enforce), but until state or local law is changed, the HOA wouldn’t be required to do so. And don’t expect anyone to run for office or the HOA board on that platform anytime soon.

          Comment by MP — April 11, 2017 @ 7:15 pm

  4. Would it be possible for people to build studio units on top of two car garages?

    Comment by Angela — April 10, 2017 @ 9:41 am

    • My understanding of these ordinances and the state law that mandates them (not really a mandate, but it supplies default rules in the absence of the locality adopting its own ordinance) is that in the past they generally have not prevented design review where proposed construction (e.g. exterior work, if any) would otherwise require design review or a variance, but the intent or purpose to add or use existing space as a second unit is exempt from local zoning rules and planning board discretion where the second unit and the property otherwise meet the conditions of the ADU statute/ordinance. I stand to be corrected on any of that, and that is more of an understanding of the existing rules rather than the bill signed by Gov Brown mentioned in Lauren’s piece. (there is a link to a summary of the changes in the Planning Board staff report for today. Not sure if they are in effect now; usually new laws take effect on Jan 1, or July 1, for example; glancing at it, it looks like the new law will override local setback rules where a garage is being converted; I didn’t take time to see what the effect would be on height restrictions or other rules, and/or board discretion with respect to adding a unit in the form of new construction over an existing garage).

      Here is the link to info on the new state law

      Comment by MP — April 10, 2017 @ 10:10 am

    • city of Alameda at this point has a height limit on garages, I think its under 15ft.. plus you cannot use a garage for habitable space if its on a property line. at least at this point.

      Comment by JohnP.trumpisnotmypresident. — April 10, 2017 @ 10:36 am

      • Here is the bit I found in the link that quotes the new state law: “(vii) No setback shall be required for an existing garage that is converted to a accessory dwelling unit, and a setback of no more than five feet from the side and rear lot lines shall be required for an accessory dwelling unit
        that is constructed above a garage.”

        Comment by MP — April 10, 2017 @ 10:45 am

  5. very confusing, what if a garage is on the property line, and you want to build an accessory unit above it. 5′ setback. I believe that having a habitable unit on the property line is also a violation of current codes. mainly due to health and safety issues, (fire codes).

    Comment by JohnP.trumpisnotmypresident. — April 10, 2017 @ 4:43 pm

    • I know my neighbor wanted to build a garage only on our property line and she was required to install Automatic Sprinklers which made it cost too much.

      Comment by frank — April 11, 2017 @ 11:05 am

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