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Protect Neighborhoods In High Fire Zones From Marin County's Proposed Second Unit Regulations

The Marin County Planning Division is proposing a set of amendments to the Marin County Development Code, which establishes zoning and subdivision regulations in the unincorporated areas of Marin County. The proposed amendments address many topics, including incorporation of the 2019 Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) legislation into the development code. At the Marin County Planning Commission's upcoming Zoom hearing on December 14th, the Commission will vote on whether or not to approve a resolution recommending the Board of Supervisors to adopt the proposed 2021 Development Code Amendments.

Many residents are very concerned about the proposed Marin County Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) regulations because they endanger communities in the Wildlands Urban Interface (WUI), High Fire Hazard Zones, Environmentally Sensitive Areas, and Constrained Areas with unsafe evacuation routes.

About the new Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) legislation enacted in 2019, which the proposed Marin County Development Code Amendments incorporate into the development code:

There are various advantages to adding an Accessory Dwelling Unit or second unit to a home. For homeowners, the extra unit can provide additional income, support family members such as adult children or aging parents, and house on-site caregivers. In addition, the units may provide additional affordable housing, although this is not guaranteed. When local jurisdictions craft careful Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinances, these second units can fit seamlessly into an established community.

However, by requiring "ministerial" review and stripping away local control of land use, local development standards, community engagement, and environmental review related to second units, the new ADU laws went too far.

Ministerial” approval streamlines the permit process and eliminates discretionary review, environmental review, and public hearings, thereby stifling public engagement, democracy, high-quality development, and environmental protections.

Most worrisome, is the fact that the new ADU laws endanger communities in the Wildlands Urban Interface, High Fire Hazard Zones, Environmentally Sensitive Areas, and Constrained Areas with unsafe evacuation routes. This is because the laws dramatically increase potential housing density and population (potentially more than doubling the population) in these hazardous communities while reducing or eliminating off-street parking requirements for ADUs and the primary single-family homes. This will lead to streets being overcrowded with parked cars.

Dire consequences could result during an emergency when residents are unable to evacuate and fire trucks/paramedics are unable to reach their destinations.

If Marin County amends its Development Code to incorporate the new ADU laws, without also incorporating “The Remedy” discussed below, then the County will also endanger communities in the WUI, High Fire Hazard Zones, and Sensitive/Constrained Areas with unsafe evacuation routes. Unfortunately, as currently written, the County's proposed ADU regulations do indeed endanger numerous high-risk neighborhoods across Unincorporated Marin.

About CA Government Code § 65852.2 “Land Use: Accessory Dwelling Units”:

All the new ADU legislation has been incorporated into California Government Code § 65852.2. This Government Code requires a jurisdiction to "ministerially" approve a permit application for building one Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) (which can be detached) and one Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit, in addition to the primary residence, for a total of 3 housing units per lot in single family zones. It also greatly relaxes or eliminates local ADU development standards (E.g. parking, size requirements, setbacks, etc.) and limits on lot coverage and Floor Area Ratios (FAR).

More specifically, the law requires jurisdictions to “ministerially” allow a homeowner, in single family neighborhoods, to build a detached backyard residence, called an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), that is at least 800-square-feet (the proposed County Development Code Amendments allow up to 1200 sq. ft.) and 16-feet-high with only four-foot side and rear setbacks OR convert a garage into a residence, as well as convert an office or spare room of the primary home into a third living space, called a Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit (JADU). The size of the ADU can be over and above the existing allowable square footage (Floor Area Ratio - FAR) for the primary home.

In addition, California Government Code § 65852.2 prohibits local governments from imposing any parking requirements for Accessory Dwelling Units in any of the following instances:

(1) The accessory dwelling unit is located within one-half mile walking distance of public transit.

(2) The accessory dwelling unit is located within an architecturally and historically significant historic district.

(3) The accessory dwelling unit is part of the proposed or existing primary residence or an accessory structure.

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

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

Furthermore, according to Government Code § 65852.2, if a garage is converted to a dwelling unit, then there is no requirement for additional off-street parking to be provided. The result would be absolutely no off-street parking for the ADUs and the main single-family home. All residents would have to park on the street.

Please imagine the cumulative impacts over time if most homes in a community add on one ADU that exceeds the FAR and one Junior ADU and eliminate all off-street parking. As the ADUs, housing density and population increase (potentially more than doubling the population), neighborhoods will become even more congested with vehicles parked on both sides of the streets. Now imagine the community to be in the Wildlands Urban Interface (WUI), a High Fire Hazard Zone and/or Sensitive/Constrained Area. Dire consequences could result during an emergency when residents are unable to evacuate and fire trucks/paramedics are unable to reach their destinations.

On a grander scale, there are over 61,000 single-family homes in Marin. Imagine the cumulative impacts for the entire County.

The Remedy:

Yet, the law provides a remedy (see the below excerpt), which LA County and the cities of Los Angeles, Berkeley, La Verne, Larkspur, and Corte Madera have made use of, and which hopefully Marin County will utilize too.

Excerpt from Government Code § 65852.2:

"65852.2.
(a) (1) A local agency may, by ordinance, provide for the creation of accessory dwelling units in areas zoned to allow single-family or multifamily use. The ordinance shall do all of the following:

(A) Designate areas within the jurisdiction of the local agency where accessory dwelling units may be permitted. The designation of areas may be based on criteria that may include, but are not limited to, the adequacy of water and sewer services and the impact of accessory dwelling units on traffic flow and public safety

The remedy allows a jurisdiction to decide where Accessory Dwelling Units may and may not be automatically permitted. The City of Larkspur did this by adding a section to its Municipal Code entitled; "Restricted Areas for Accessory Dwelling Units". LA County, the City of Los Angeles, the City of Berkeley, La Verne, and the Town of Corte Madera also added a "Prohibited Areas" section to their ADU Ordinances. The County of Marin could do the same.

Unincorporated Marin, if it so chooses, could prohibit homeowners from automatically building Accessory Dwelling Units in the Wildlands Urban Interface (WUI), High Fire Hazard Areas, Environmentally Sensitive Areas, and Constrained Areas with unsafe evacuation routes, where the proposed ADU(s), subsequent population growth, and the resultant increase in vehicles parked on congested, inadequate roadways would impede emergency access and evacuation in the event of a fire or other emergency. However, if conditions are safe (E.g. the homeowner provides off-street parking for the ADUs and the single-family home), then the ADU(s) would be allowed with a variance or waiver.

Recommended Wording For New “Restricted Areas for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)” Section (in green) (This recommended section is similar to Larkspur's ADU ordinance):

Restricted Areas For Accessory Dwelling Units:

“Due to the Unincorporated Marin’s unique local climatic, geologic and topographic conditions, Accessory Dwelling Units & Junior Accessory Dwelling Units are not permitted in certain hillside residential areas that are determined to have inadequate roadways to provide adequate ingress and egress for emergency access and evacuation in the event of a fire or other emergency. It is the determination of Marin County that additional dwelling units in these areas would present adverse impacts on traffic flow and public safety.

A. Accessory Dwelling Units & Junior Accessory Dwelling Units are not permitted in the Wildlands Urban Interface (WUI), High Fire Hazard Zones, Environmentally Sensitive Areas and Constrained Areas where the primary access to the property is on roadways that are subject to constrained ingress/egress for emergency vehicles and resident evacuation. Areas are subject to constrained ingress/egress if they meet one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Streets with insufficient roadway width. A minimum twenty-four-foot roadway width is required for emergency access. (The roadway must be wide enough for vehicles to park on both sides of the street plus a fire truck/ emergency vehicle to pass through the middle of the parked vehicles.)
  2. Streets that do not meet all road standards contained in Marin County Code Title 24.
  3. One-lane roadways allowing two-way traffic.
  4. Remote areas not served by improved or paved roads.
  5. Highly congested roadways with Level of Service ‘D’ or ‘F’ .

B. An owner may apply for a waiver from the restrictions on accessory dwelling units established by this section. The waiver shall be considered for approval or denial by the Zoning Administrator, who shall make such determination after consultation with the Fire Department. In deciding whether or not to grant the requested waiver, the Zoning Administrator shall consider factors related to ingress/egress for emergency vehicles and resident evacuation. These factors may include, but are not limited to, whether there are multiple routes of ingress or egress to the property, the distance from the property to the closest road with unconstrained ingress and egress, and the amount of off-street parking at the site.”

For more details, please read Sustainable TamAlmonte’s attached letter to the Planning Commission regarding the proposed Marin County Development Code Amendments pertaining to Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).

TAKE ACTION!

1. Write:

Please write a letter/email, or, if you don't have time to compose your own letter, then write a short endorsement of Sustainable TamAlmonte’s letters. Send your comments, letters, emails to the Marin County Planning Commission and Planning Manager Jeremy Tejirian:

Jeremy Tejirian, Planning Manager

Marin County Planning Commission
County of Marin Community Development Agency
3501 Civic Center Drive, Suite #308
San Rafael, CA 94903
JTejirian@marincounty.org

planningcommission@marincounty.org
(415) 473-3798

SAMPLE ENDORSEMENT EMAIL/LETTER:

"Dear Marin County Planning Commission,

(Tell a story about unsafe roadways in your neighborhood.)

We endorse Sustainable TamAlmonte's letters to you regarding the proposed Marin County Development Code Amendments pertaining to Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).

We urge you to ensure public safety in the event of a fire or other emergency by adding a "Restricted Areas for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)" section to the Marin County Development Code. Such a section would prohibit Accessory Dwelling Units in the Wildlands Urban Interface (WUI), High Fire Hazard Zones, Sensitive Areas, and Constrained Areas where conditions are unsafe and the ADUs, subsequent increase in population, and resultant increase in vehicles parked on congested and/or inadequate roadways, would impede emergency access and evacuation in the event of a fire or other emergency. However, if conditions are determined by the Zoning Administrator to be safe, then the units would be allowed with a variance or a waiver.

Sincerely,

YOUR NAME"

2. Attend & Speak at the Upcoming Planning Commission Hearing:

WHAT: Planning Commission Hearing re: Proposed Marin County Development Code Amendments

WHEN: Monday, December 14, 2020 at 1:00 PM

WHERE: Join the Zoom meeting by following directions on the Planning Commission hearings webpage at:

https://www.marincounty.org/depts/cd/divisions/planning/boards-commissions-and-public-hearings/planning-commission-hearings-page

Please speak during Public Open Time. Either tell a story about unsafe roadways in your neighborhood, or simply say; "Good Afternoon. I am "So & So". I endorse Sustainable TamAlmonte's letters. Please protect neighborhoods in hazardous areas from unsafe Accessory Dwelling Units. Thank you."

3. Read Marin County’s Information About the Proposed Development Code Amendments:

Here is a link to the Proposed Marin County Development Code Amendments webpage:

https://www.marincounty.org/depts/cd/divisions/planning/dev-code-amendments-2020

The webpage includes the draft amendments and the corresponding public notice, which includes information about the upcoming Planning Commission hearing, a staff report and a summary of the amendments.

4. Spread the word:

Share this article with all your contacts and post the following link in social media:

https://marinpost.org/blog/2020/11/14/protect-neighborhoods-in-high-fire-zones-from-proposed-county-second-unit-regulations

Thank you in advance for taking action. Together we can make a difference!

Tags

ADU, Second units, Assembly Bill 68, Accessory Dwelling Unit legislation