Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Add-ons vs. Scrape-offs

Came across a nice article tonight courtesy of the Planetizen Newswire. This is a news service that gathers together articles of interest to people concerned about ecological issues. But not the phony greenwash you hear from the minority faction of our City Council. No, we're talking about carefully conceived and thought-out presentations that are so much more than what the factotums of Sacramento lobby-think have to offer. Lobby-think that always seems to somehow end up with big development as the solution, no matter what the problem.

Now you might remember a few weeks back some of the controversy over Granny Houses, two words that had thrown the Downtown Investors Club into a dangerous fit of St. Vitus Syndrome. These humble buildings were being put forward by some of the more thoughtful persons in town as a solution to the low income housing problem our friends at SCAG had so thoughtfully hung around our necks. With Sacramento enforced RHNA numbers to make the gift just that much sweeter and endearing.

Now, of course, those who had planned to use our RHNA predicament as a way of squeezing high-density development into our quaint little burgh were aghast at the suggestion. And, with their hired cutout Karen Warner leading the way, proclaimed that Granny Houses would never be acceptable to the uber diktatoren in Sacramento, and therefore we must bow to their will and obey lest they send in the tanks.

But would you believe that Granny Housing is fast becoming a solution to similar problems all over the country? And as people wake up to the notion that high-density multi-unit SCAG monstrosities are just not the way to go in more traditional villages such as ours, they are turning more and more to, you got it, Granny Housing. And if you go to Google and type in those two little words, you'll see pages and pages of articles on just how great a solution they are to some of the problems people and cities are now facing.

In other words, Granny Houses have now become cool.

The article the Planetizin Newswire pointed me to (which led me to all those other articles on Google) is entitled "Add-ons vs. Scrapeoffs." And since it spells out the case so nicely, I thought I'd post a few paragraphs for you to check out. Please note that "carriage houses" and "granny houses" are meant to be taken as being the same thing.

"A group of Denver residents believe the city's new zoning code should allow for the building of so-called carriage houses. Following implementation of the old code 53 years ago, city officials did away with residents' ability to build what are known as accessory dwelling units. The structures carry several different names, including carriage houses and granny flats, named so because many families build them to house their aging relatives ... But as city officials are preparing to finalize the new zoning code - a draft was released at the beginning of June - a group called Friends of Granny are pushing for the right to once again build carriage houses ... Bob Sperling, leader of the Friends of Granny group, says the issue is about choice. As he watches duplexes built around him in Platt Park, he wonders if accessory dwelling units are a way to preserve single-family houses, either connected or detached from their homes, he says ... 'I believe in preserving Denver's single-family housing,' said Sperling.'One of the ways of doing that, and to cut down on slash and burn by outside speculators buying up property, bulldozing it and putting up duplexes, is to build accessory dwelling units.' ... The group acknowledges that there is some resistance from homeowners in the community who might not like the side effect of carriage houses: the possibility of an influx of renters in their neighborhoods as carriage-house owners rent out the accessory units ... But after more than three years of pushing city officials and being out in the public eye, Sperling says only a handful of opponents have raised the caution flag. He also points out that there are already at least 3,000 carriage houses in the city, grandfathered in following implementation of the old code."

The article goes on to discuss more specifics, and I recommend you punch the link and check it all out. But you see? We are not the only community that is pushing the concept, and try as they might to shoot this down, it is really the D.I.C. and their greenhouse gas emitting big ugly box building preferences that have fallen behind the times.

At the end of this article they reprinted some of the comments that had been left on the web version. One in particular, written by someone calling herself Granny, warmed my heart.

"Charlie Busch of the West Wash Park Neighborhood Association has been the only outspoken critic of carriage houses. In the June INC newsletter, she writes, 'It is hard to dispute that individuals enjoying their college years and young adulthood frequently have lifestyles that can be out of synch with those valued by many in our predominantly single-family areas.' That sounds like Ms. Busch would like to somehow prevent the renting of homes to young people in her neighborhood. Granny, however, believes that age and cultural diversity are qualities that help make neighborhoods great, and finds Ms. Busch's views offensive."

Granny? You can write for The Tattler any time you like.


  1. The greenist use of our housing stock is by way of adaptive reuse, including carriage houses (granny flats, in the local language), something conveniently forgotten by the "spec" builders of Southern California...

  2. The Downtown Investment Club (love that name!) is only in it for the money. THEY COULD CARE LESS ABOUT THIS TOWN. THEY ARE DISGRACEFUL.

  3. We all know high density buildings give off more greenhouse gases
    than low density structures. So wouldn't this be the kind of thing
    those proudly parading about as Green would be supporting? That
    they do not is more proof of their hypocrisy.

  4. We need to form a FRIENDS of GRANNY and tell SCAG, RHNA, SB 375, and Karen Warner to take their developments and shove them where the sun don't shine. Anyone who does not see the Granny Flats as the solution has another agenda and that is high density development. Those DICs are only interested in making a buck for themself or those who they represent. Our council now has two members who do not have the city's best interest at heart. Granny Flats are the perfect solution for the city. They will meet our forced SCAG housing demands and will insure a safe and economical place for young and old alike to live.

  5. The dirts are furious about these "granny houses" being used to fill our housing needs.
    They just can't give up their evil dream of 3 and 4 story "ghettos" in downtown Sierra Madre.

  6. Sir Eric, now you're rockin' While this approach does raise some issues in R-1 zoning (can be handled with CUP's and PC review), San Marino has used this model to prevent multifamily development. Specifically, the multifamily and mixed used density projects will be subject to inclusionary housing requirements in the future after the County gets through with their survey, which creates bigger projects to get the necessary payback for the developers.

  7. Great post Pasta! 9:20!
    Couldn't have written it better myself!

  8. Old Kentucky is 100% right as usual. Out with Joe and let John sit there for two years and talk to himself because no one is listening a thing his says.

  9. Lisa, Keep up the good input.

  10. From the LEED Certification book:

    First section, first page, first paragraph: "The environmental impact of the building design, construction, and operation industry is significant. Buildings annually consume more than 30% of the total energy and more than 60% of the electricity used in the US. Every day five billion gallons of potable (drinking) water is soley used to flush toilets. A typical North American commerical construction project generates up to 2.5 pounds of solid waste per square foot of completed floor space...

    Green building is an oxymoron used by idiots and developers. Building is the most un green thing you can do on purpose. Transportation is not the problem....development is.

  11. Did you just call John and Joe morons, Pasta?

  12. The most green thing this town has ever done is pass Measure V. If all that crap had been built downtown we'd be a greenhouse gas factory now.

  13. Laurie Barlow!

    Please keep contributing to this blog.
    We appreciate you sharing your expertise!

    We have several professional people who contribute here, they live here in Sierra Madre, so they can't really use their own names....for fear of repercussions from the pro development crowd, better known in Sierra Madre as the Dirts and/or the Downtown Investors Club. These people who lost a lot of money when we passed Measure V haven't given up, they are now fighting us with evil bills like SB 375, bureaurocrat orginazations like SGAG.

  14. Hold on. Green and LEED *are* tools to allow development to continue in the face of shrinking resources due to the emphasis on physical growth to generate revenue. California has been famous for that model, and it's also famously imploding right now.

    But, funds are now available for the retrofit of existing structures and residences, which can be implemented locally as public policy. This reinforces preservation as public policy, and it should be made a formal part of your municipal code and your design guidelines, if you have them.

    It's always better to turn these huge federal, state and county vectors to your advantage (win-win) than to try to fight it outright, which tends to be an expensive and losing proposition.

  15. The cynicism of these people is astounding. You wonder how they can sleep.

  16. Yes Laurie, The city must require high level of LEED compliance. Gold at the least. I would opt for Platinum. Buildings must be built friendly to the environment.

    Granny Flats are better than new construction if you are trying to do what is best.

  17. I think you folks are giving Joe and John way too much power and the City of Sierra Madre for that matter. Neither of these men are the power players that you think they are. And the city it self has very little influence in Sacramento. The grant monies that we have been able to garner in the past are minimal compared to what gets handed out from our state. You are burning an awful lot of energy focusing on these two. If what you want is to overturn SB 375 and eliminate SGAG then you need to find a couple of good attorneys who are experienced in this field and will work pro-bono for you. Go after the source, not the trickle down guys. Who knows, maybe they have been just as snowed as alot of other people. Or maybe they are answering to survival instinct and just trying to keep their jobs. Whatever the reason, I believe your energy is misdirected.

    Granny Flats: L Barlow is correct, granny flats present problems in R-1 zones. Some of it can be mitigated with CUP's but not all. Much of a planning commission's decision is based on the impact a project has on the neighborhood. We also, need to remember that the percentage of lot coverage is always a consideration. My guess is that the property owners who would most likely would want a rental unit on their property are not the property owners with space to spare in terms of the city's lot coverage and set-back requirements. I'm all for granny flats from the perspective of individuals wanting them to house family members or friends. But I'm not sold on them being used as a constant source of income for the property owner.

    Fearing Repercussions,


  18. 9:45 If the shoe fits...wear it.

  19. 10:27 - you are not all that well informed here. Joe Mosca is the chair for the SGVCOG committee assigned the task of enforcing SB 375 in this area. Something he is apparently doing with gusto judging by his enthusiasm on the topic at City Council meetings. Your claim that he is somehow a victom of Sacramento has no basis in common reality.

  20. 10:27
    I'm sold on them (granny houses) being a way around SCAG and RHNA.
    Joe and John do have power, being obstructionists.
    Fortunately, they don't control the votes like they did when Enid was on the council.
    The economy, the Titan scandal and Sir Eric Maundry's blog has kept them in a place of being irrelevant.

  21. 10:27...Is that you, Bart? Shouldn't you be heading over to the Betty Chu presser?

  22. I don't understand why the RHNA numbers still stand, given the state of the state and the demise of the development frenzy.
    How are the RHNA numbers going to be enforced? Withholding IOU's?

  23. I hear that Sacramento is now going to pay for its obligations with lottery tickets.

  24. Mr. Finewine, would that be Mega, Super, or Scratchers? I would hope it is not Scratchers. I think that is an important consideration given the amount of time it would require for staff at City Hall to scratch off all that silver stuff.

  25. Poster 10:27, I'm not sure why you are fearing repercussions, but I do agree with the previous poster's assessment that your are not well informed. First, what is really being proposed in Sierra Madre (by Council Member Zimmerman and now many of the residents) is that the already standing granny houses be permitted and counted to satisfy our RHNA requirements.

    Second, SCAG membership is strictly voluntary. All it takes is three members of the Sierra Madre City Council to vote to leave the association. No lawyer required.

    Third and finally, I disagree with your suggestion that the good residents of Sierra Madre should stop focusing on Joe and John if they want change. The voters didn't focus enough on these two. That's why Joe was elected and John was elected and then re-elected.

  26. Sierra Madre business ownerJuly 1, 2009 at 1:04 PM

    12:57, thanks for that post. Right you are on all points.
    Unscrupulous people slipped by and tricked residents into voting for them. We definitely need to focus on Joe & John. Sierra Madreans have been too trusting.

  27. If it takes three votes to get out of SCAG, whats the hold up, we have majority vote in City Council, is one of the three not on board with us getting out of SCAG, if so, who and why. If you play three on two basketball who should be winning, hands down?

  28. 1:40 It's on the next agenda I think.
    For it's one, two, three strikes SCAG's out at the ol' ball game.

    You loose Joe.

  29. It is already possible to build a new granny flat. It was mandated by state law years ago. However, the individual cities had crafted the specific requirements into the zoning code, but because of the prodevelopment council, it was discouraged by making it next to impossible to accomplish easily. You could reasonably say that every R1 lot could be counted as a potential housing count credit.. What has made it untenable has been the requirement that a granny flat would have to be demolished once granny kicked the bucket, and no attached unit could be allowed.
    While CUP's and variances are a tool to control overbuilding new units, many R1 properties already have units, (as I prefer to call them carriage houses), that are not counted as habitable units because they don't have a "city permitted" kitchen. Many are already rented out.
    Since they are pre existing none conforming, (in otherwords built before zoning changes were made), they should be grandfathered in as long as they meet minimum life safety issues like egress, smoke detectors, etc., and a kitchen permit, to legalize them as a countable unit.
    Parking is an issue, but if they are already there, it should be possible to park a car on the lot or require a parking permit. New units should conform to the zoning requirements.
    What say you?
    Good to hear from you Laurie....

  30. 2:48, now that make great sense. Grandfathering Grannys is the reasonable way to make this work.
    But is our distressed state still going to force the RHNA numbers?

  31. 2:48.....good information, thanks!
    I say, let's get the heck out of SCAG!

  32. 2:55
    How are they going to enforce it?
    Besides, Sierra Madre can and will comply on our own, with the granny flats, so the hell with the state and the scaggies.

  33. I would like to thank:
    Laurie Barlow and our own Mayor Pro-tem Don Watts for speaking out on this out of control growth issue. They are architects.....their clients are developers!
    In order to do the right thing, they take a huge financial hit. They do it for us. They do it for the environment and they do it for future generations of Californians.
    They are heroes. Thank you for looking out for us, Laurie and Don and all the brave people who fight the lobbyists, the unscrupulous politicians and groups like the BIA and the CAR who shamelessly promote over development at all costs so they can make an extra buck.

  34. 4:14, the question is why we need to comply at all? Is the state seriously pursuing numbers that have become pure fiction?

  35. 443 I agree. Who cares what sacramento wants now? They're powerless to do much of anything now that they're broke. Time for a little city to city rebellion. They can take their transit villages and shove 'em.

  36. On June 23rd at the council meeting these words were address at the Public Forum:

    " I am here tonight to address a solution to satisfying the City of Sierra Madre’s lower income unit requirement. The City has an existing code # 17.22.005 that allows second units to be built in the R-1 zone to be provided as lower income but only addresses new construction with conforming setbacks and restricts existing non-conforming units by making them meet existing codes .

    I am here to propose that we amend that code and provide a chapter for the pre- existing non conforming units already in existence that don’t necessarily meet existing codes of today. They could go through a process of a building check, be certified safe for habitation and they shall be used, occupied and maintained as housing that is affordable to “Lower Income Households”. This could also be voluntary to the existing owners.

    In this way the City can provide for those lower income units without the threat of imminent domain, rezoning, or doors for density development posed as providing lower income.

    If we are talking about being “Green” what better way not to disturb our village’s environment by teardown and construction and still provide for the far less advantaged."

    So if indeed we must comply with the existing numbers we can satisfy them very easily and then opt out of Scag. The existing 2nd units in the R-1 zone was also made extemely resticted so it would not be used towards our lower income requirement but Sacramento had passed a bill that said we had to provide for those 2nd units in 2002/03.
    This code for new units should also be amended to have separate water and gas meters and it already allows for off street, uncovered parking.

    AS far as fighting SB 375 why not Sutton the attorney who defended and helped put together Measure V ?!

  37. 7:46 - Thank you. very thoughtful post and well worth considering. As for fighting SB 375 we also need to bring in other towns as well. As more and more cities awaken to the horrors of this draconian gutting of the rights of cities to defend themselves against predatory redevelopment I am sure they would like to join us in our fight.

  38. I guess I'm cutting against the grain, here, but I am actually opposed to all forms of increased density, including "granny flats".

    My opposition for granny flats as rentals stems from:
    a) increased population density: more cars, traffic, etc.. you know the drill
    b) people in the residential neighborhood with no long term vested interest in the neighborhood.. including guests, significant others, etc
    c) most homeowners are ill equipped to be landlords.. ie tenant disputes, neighbor disputes, etc. Renters are hard to remove, even if they are problematic.
    d) land/ lot coverage and environmental impacts

    I do like granny flats if they are used for noble purposes, like housing an actual granny. However, this could be accomplished by allowing room additions. Or, perhaps there is some way to allow granny flats but without allowing rentals. I really don't want to turn into the Westside.

  39. Point taken. Granny flats are an answer to state imposed and SCAG authored RHNA numbers. Which are far better than the 4 unit block housing people like Danny Castro want to see built in places like East Montecito. But yeah, the best situation of all would be having Soviet California butt out of our lives altogether.

  40. To Anonymous July 2, 2009:
    If we are obligatted to fulfill the remaining number of low income units because we have not yet dropped out of Scag this is much more preferable than a large new construction build-out (and giving a door for the developers) or taking peoples property away from them. If we can go on and not fullfil this units then we don't have to build anything or name propective sites in the new to come housing element. Build-out or use existing pretty simple choice.....

  41. Hey, just thought you should all know that the Realtors actually support protecting the rights of homeowners to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) / Granny Flats / Carriage Houses.

    In fact a couple of years ago, even prior to Measure V, Realtors were the lead proponents on a bill in Sacramento that protected homeowners rights on that very issue.

    You might be surprised to find out you have a lot in common, if you ever cared to look, or ask...