Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Problem With Granny Flats

Look, I get the whole granny flats thing. The City of Sierra Madre, along with every other city in California, is subject to the (acronym warning) RHNA garbage being forced upon us by RPOs like SCAG. (That would be Regional Housing Needs Assessment, Regional Planning Organizations and Southern California Association of Governments.) The troublesome folks responsible for these acronymic contortions are all a part of Sacramento's burning need to force quaint little communities such as ours to "condo up," done in the name of accommodating all those millions of new residents on their way to California.

Of course, we know they are not coming here and only exist on paper. Kind of like much of Sierra Madre's water supply for development projects.

Sierra Madre is, unfortunately, at the bottom of a pyramid of corruption that begins with the State Legislature in Sacramento and is lavishly lubricated with handsome sums of cash from lobbyists for developers, construction interests and Realtors. All of which seeps down through a vast interconnected bureaucracy of State, County and regional planning organizations, and ends up here. And after having sold out from under us our right to determine what it is we want for our community, Sacramento is then obligated to enforce the desires of the concerned lobbies that lined their pockets. Which means forcing towns like Sierra Madre to plan for stack and pack development nobody living here wants. Except, of course, for a few rather over-represented members of the Downtown Investors Club.

Now somewhere along the way a strategy was developed here that would take some of SCAG's RHNA pressure off of us. And that would be to identify housing that already exists within the borders of Sierra Madre, but have always been off the grid. The City could then claim these units as additional housing, which would then hopefully satisfy some of the RHNA requirements imposed upon us by the state government through SCAG.

In other words, we could claim any previously unknown second units as new housing development, and then fold them into our General Plan. These units likely being the small second houses some folks have in their backyards, which are traditionally known as either guest houses or granny flats.

Which all sounds fairly cut and dried, and a novel solution to some fairly serious grief. However, this is also the real world, and therefore there are problems. That being, these granny flats are not "legal" because they aren't registered with the City. Meaning they have not been subjected to the codes and customs most housing here has endured. Nor have taxes been paid, either. The result being that many owners will still prefer that the City not know about their little cottages out back, and will not care to talk about them.

Recently the City of Sierra Madre mailed out a few sheets of paper entitled "Sierra Madre Second Unit Survey and Amnesty Program." The purpose of this was to have folks identify their secret granny flats so that they can be included among our RHNA numbers, and to offer them an amnesty should they do so. Here is how this amnesty offer is made:

As part of this effort, a second unit amnesty program will also be available for those second units that may have been constructed without building permits. The City would like to legalize these units so that they can contribute towards the RHNA requirements. The amnesty program will enable property owners to register these units with the City without facing fines for non-permitted construction. In addition, legalizing an unpermitted second unit can increase a property's value upon sale. Property owners will not be subject to code enforcement action when applying for amnesty of their second unit, unless there is a clear and imminent danger to public safety and/or environmental health. The enclosed "Second Unit Amnesty Program Summary Sheet" provides details on the program and outlines the steps involved in applying for an amnesty permit.

And therein lies the problem. While the owner of a second unit granny flat might not be punished for having so big a secret on their property, will they also receive an amnesty from visits by code enforcement and building inspection officials, people who will then make legally binding suggestions on how exactly to bring these granny flats up to code with the City? The required permits alone for such work will run these property owners thousands of dollars.

This is alluded to on the amnesty summary sheet:

The City's goals in establishing the amnesty program are:

1) To encourage healthy and safe conditions in existing housing units.
2) To meet the City's share of affordable housing units (RHNA) required by the State.
3) To reduce or eliminate the requirement to establish zoning for higher density multi-family housing.

Now I am completely in favor of the third goal. And in my mind that does make this project worthwhile. As I said previously, it is my contention that RHNA numbers are the product of an inept and quite possibly corrupt State government. California is not undergoing a population boom right now, rather more people are leaving than coming in. Therefore there is no burning need to build stack and pack development. Except, of course, in the minds of certain invested development and real estate interests with lots of paid for influence in Sacramento.

So here is my question. Should City Hall be doing this on the backs of people who just happen to own a granny flat in their backyard? Most of which were built long before the codes that the City is so concerned about even existed?

Once the owners of these "second units" identify them to the City Hall, will they be subject to visits from code and building inspectors? And this need "to encourage healthy and safe conditions in existing housing units," will it result in the City demanding that these buildings be brought up to code? With the permits and City fees involved alone costing these unfortunate property owners thousands of dollars?

It is nice that the City of Sierra Madre will not punish people for the offense of having ownership of a granny flat in their backyards. However, what good will an amnesty from having to pay fines be to those who will still end up paying the City thousands of dollars in permit costs?

In the end we are talking about semantics. Money out of the pockets of property owners is still money. Whether it is for fines or permit fees won't matter much.

Until there is an amnesty on permit costs for these property owners as well, I would suggest they not return any of the information requested by City Hall. It is good that the City of Sierra Madre is fighting back on the RHNA issue. What isn't so good is that this could also be seen as just another opportunity to raise revenue.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

73 comments:

  1. I'll bet you would have an increase in your property tax too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And insurance.

      Delete
    2. So all costs go up and there are likely permits to be paid, electricians to hire, sounds great. Sign me up.

      Delete
    3. I take it you don;t have a small house in your backyard.

      Delete
    4. I take it that my attempt at sarcasm was not a success.

      Delete
    5. Look up who is responsible for assessing the RHNA numbers - you will be surprised, I am sure to find out it is the California Department of Finance and the Building Association.

      Delete
  2. There is an ideal way for city hall to fight RHNA numbers, suggested by the RHNA Appeals Board (or whatever it's called):
    Institute a moratorium on all new water connections because we are running out of water.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES! 7:04, this is a very good idea!
      Unfortunately, it makes too much sense, they would never even consider it.
      Please continue to bring up this excellent idea, often.
      Perhaps we can get something going here that even the most clueless will understand.

      If we are running out of water, as the City of Sierra Madre tells us?
      Then we should not allow any additional population or building in Sierra Madre.

      Delete
    2. At what point does coercion become extortion?

      Delete
  3. What is the rule if you wanted to build a granny flat or second unit on your single residential zoned property now (R-1)? In Palo Alto you CAN have a seond unit only if there is room to pair cars and have a yard as with the first unit, this is so as to maintain the integrity of the the R-1 neighborhood.

    Sierra Madre's approach is to turn the areas with these illegal ( and they are illegal) units into defacto R-2 zoned areas. This goes way back to the first general plan housing/zoning discussion in 1996 with then Development Service's Director Ann McIntosh, who was hired to get rid od SallyAnn Mallen.

    Note, in the letter from Mr. Castro, that the second units can have zero side yard setback. How can this be in keeping with public safety? Fire department! This is apparently to capture all the old converted garages on the property line. Those cars are parked on the street all night. How is this good for public safety? Police Department!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 2nd units are legal in R1 zones by state mandate in all of California, not just Palo Alto.

      Delete
    2. Zero setbacks are allowed in many places, as long as the walls on a building are 1 hour fire rated and no windows or openings are present.
      The 5 foot setback rule has to do with the distance required to prevent fire spreading to an adjacent structure.
      Also, light and ventilation becomes a problem for a residence without having a five foot setback.

      Delete
  4. Reduce elder abuse, arm grannies.

    ReplyDelete
  5. In the early days, the records for housing in Sierra Madre were kept in downtown L.A., and there was a fire that destroyed them. There are structures in town that have no paper history.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Remember it is only second units not reflected in a census since 2000 that can be counted - that means that if the address of the 1/2s and 3/4s and those interesting mixed numbers that give the post office headaches have existed since before 2000, SCAG kicks them to the curb as far as RHNAs go.
    Given that weird requirement, how many units do you think we're even talking about?

    ReplyDelete
  7. How about housemate situations? People who split off part of their homes for a renter, or rent out a basement? Those count?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The possibilities are endless, aren't they...

      Delete
  8. Anyone who has built an illegal structure on their property for the purpose of generating profit isn't 'unfortunate', they are part of the same corrupt pyramid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, comrade. It's those damn Kulaks.

      Delete
    2. I know a single mom who rents out a room in her very small, old house, and shares her bedroom with her daughter.
      Shall we git her?

      Delete
    3. Yes. How about tonight? I'll get the torches.

      Delete
    4. We shouldn't even be having this conversation.
      There should be NO required housing units by any central government planners, be they in Sacramento or Sierra Madre.
      RHNA and SCAG should NOT EXIST.

      Delete
    5. Agreed. We are now spending valuable tax money on a witch hunt for hidden shacks.

      Delete
  9. Wasn't this first suggested around the time Karen Warner did the first housing element?
    So how many years, or councils, did it take to get it together to send out that letter?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Somebody finally figured out it would be a great way to shift some building permits.

      Delete
  10. knotty problems and questionsOctober 3, 2012 at 9:01 AM

    Those units, (or shall we call them suites?) many of them have been around before the town was incorporated, and many built during the depression era as a way to afford to put food on their tables and many are still used for that purpose.
    7:10 is correct, many permit records were lost or destroyed. Trying to sort it out is an impossible job.
    Is the need for this motivated by the "RHNA numbers game" only?
    I know of several older residents who rent these places out to be able to subsist in today's economy. Social Security can't pay the bills anymore for many, and would be forced out of the community otherwise.
    Didn't the state pass a law years ago that allows a 2nd unit on R1 properties?

    Is the city guaranteeing no future retribution ?

    After the amnesty period is over, then what?
    Are we being drawn into a situation where we are reporting each other to the city for any issue?
    If I have to rent a room to someone to pay my bills, am I a criminal?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great post 9:01.

      Delete
    2. You can only wonder if the city will go after these people, in the process spending thousands of dollars on lawyers they will charge back to the homeowner.

      Delete
    3. The Mayor was renting out a room in his own home - is he a criminal?

      Delete
    4. This program doesn't have anything to do with renting out rooms in a house. This has to do with rewarding law breakers who have built an illegal rental behind their house.

      The City grandfathered in many granny flats in the '80s and now they want to do it again. This amounts to a amnesty to those who break the law, not once but twice - since this is for units built before 2006. Its like sneaking over the US boarder, then being granted citizenship because you've been here for six years.

      Housing amnesty rewards law breakers,not only do they change a neighborhood, including value of homes, but they have cheated the City out of permit fees. Say what you may about the City charging fees, but there isn't a City in the United States that doesn't charge fees for building.

      The screwy part of this program is that if a request is denied, the second unit will be allowed as a nonconforming unit. No harm, no foul.

      Delete
    5. Like a good neighbor, 11:57 is there.

      Kick any dogs today?

      Delete
    6. "Cheating the city out of permit fees"? Please. These granny flat owners running low income housing out of the goodness of their judeo/christian hearts so that they can put food on the table are modern day robin hoods! Like my former heros at amazon who helped me "cheat the state out of sales taxes"! We should be hailing these granny flat samaratins. not burying them!

      PS: If you buy from an out of state Amazon affiliate you likely will not be hit with sales tax. I also recommend ebay stores run by large retailers.

      Delete
    7. Speaking of the tax loving Mr. Dog Kicker, the Dog Tax Collectors are running around town. I have therefore relegated Fido to the basement until the license the dogs push passes. Don't worry. She's got water. She's also been spayed, has all her shots (I have to show proof every time i Kennel her), and a tag with our phone mumber. So, Mr. Dog Kicker, I am also "cheting the dog catcher out of dog catcher fees" too. It's fun. It serves a valid social purpose. You should try it.

      Delete
    8. Is the City enforcing breathing fees?

      Delete
    9. Wow, 11:22, you saved what? $20 or $40?

      Delete
    10. On Josh's "cost of a latte" scale that is a pretty stiff price.

      Delete
    11. $20 bucks = 4 six packs of PBR. For me, that's two nights of drinking mister super rich guy who can throw away $20 or $40 on dog fees instead of booze. a luxury a poor working stiff like me cannot afford.

      Delete
    12. Been to the meetings where this was discussed and that is exactly what they want is neighbors reporting on neighbors.

      Delete
  11. I agree...but just to set the record straight, 9:01, social security was NEVER meant to to fund people's retirement, but rather to serve as a safety net so that retirees or the disabled wouldn't starve. I find it very odd and disturbing that some of the very people who will complain about big government's interference in our lives are the same ones who will complain about a small social security check. Okay, back to Sierra Madre politics...I just read on the Patch (yup, some of us do read it) that there is a meeting (COG, I think) about the 710 corridor from 9 to Noon. I'm sorry I didn't pay close enough attention to make arrangements to attend. Another issue where we must fight to be able to maintain our way of life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The COG is a big supporter of the 710 Tunnel. From what I could see this is a big cheerleader meeting. A lot of the flacks Metro had hired to push this disaster are there.

      Delete
    2. Anybody surprised?

      Delete
  12. What are the names of the residents of this so called Downtown Investors Club. Who are these people. Maybe they should be confronted as to why they are doing what they do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't fall for this Tattlers! Trolls abound.

      Delete
    2. Looks like Steve is back. I wonder why it is he spends so much time going to a place that he doesn't like? Seems odd to me. Maybe je doesn;t like anything.

      Delete
    3. Whoever these DICs are, they seem to be losing their shirts. Except for that nice man who supports Measure V and wants to build a home for super wealthy old folks who have long dreamed of spending their golden years in sierra madre.

      Delete
    4. When DIC members bought into what was going to be the Downtown Specific Plan, they were careful to guard their identities through the use of LLCs. Something that was probably a good thing for them because after Measure V sank the whole mess they would have been very embarrassed.

      Delete
    5. That model of retirement communities has gone by the wayside. It isolates people and the age-segregated model has proven to be very damaging to communities. No more profit in that kind of investment.

      http://www.theatlanticcities.com/arts-and-lifestyle/2012/10/tragedy-modern-retirement-communities/3420/

      Ironically, the co-housing and granny flat model may prove to be a very viable one.

      Delete
    6. The terrible truth about an assisted care facility is that the elders who live there are moved out if/when they need skilled nursing. Better to find a place that has assisted plus skilled nursing. Or have in home care, then skilled nursing. Something like the Kensington will just take all the money, and then not help their clients when they become helpless.

      Delete
    7. Hey 11:04, how about filming that confrontation you are planning?

      Delete
  13. Palo Alto (as in all of California?) regulates the possibility of putting a 2nd unit on an R-1 lot, by requiring that it meet parking and setback standards of the R-1 zone it is "invading." Keep the neighborhood looking like a single-residential area not duplexes/multiplexes. That means that possible properties were large and allowed for the inclusion of the grannies. This is what keeps up property values not the fact that the now-owner or wouldbe-owner can make more money on a rental. Initially granny flats were not to be rented out and that seems to have gone by the way side.



    ReplyDelete
  14. The No on 710 site is here, they post the relevant meetings in the area

    http://www.no710.com/

    The public Facebook page is where much of the commentary and activism goes on
    https://www.facebook.com/SupportersOnno710FreewayExtension

    Join up and post if you're interested and are in FB
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/No710freewayextension/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. City Council is supposed to be discussing a Resolution regarding the 710 Freeway extension at the next City Council meeting on 10/09/2012, at least that's what the City Manager's report says.

      http://cityofsierramadre.com/i-want-to/find/documents/file/571-city-manager-s-report-9-28-2012

      Go let the Council know that putting more traffic onto the 210 is a bad idea!

      Delete
    2. How certain City Council people vote on this one will be very telling. The 710 Tunnel is very unpopular.

      Delete
    3. People should be concerned to elect Donna Lowe for the Assembly seat.
      Chris Holden is a big supporter of the 710 Tunnel scam.
      I met this lady, Donna Lowe last week, and I'm convinced she is very honest. She is committed to oppose this 710 scam.
      This lady went door to door in our Pasadena neighborhood, she deserves our votes.
      The fact that Mr. Holden is in favor of the tunnel is reason enough to not vote for him, but he also has a big cloud around his associations with the PSUD. We can't take a chance on this man being our representive.

      Delete
  15. I have the answer to the RHNA number problem. The thinking is a little out of the normal (so should fit right in with state and local brain trust) we rename plots at the Pioneer cemetry as suites. No kitchen and limited views. But no infrastucker cost and if you amortise over time in ground iam sure it would qulify as low income housing.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Are they suites or units?

      Delete
    2. 1:42, you're a genius. That might just work.

      Delete
  16. Tax it when it moves. Tax it when it doesn't.October 3, 2012 at 2:37 PM

    Speaking of city fee grabs, how about the supposed ban on overnight street parking.

    If overnight street parking is such a big deal, the ban should have teeth. After all, isn't having to look at my neighbor's piece of crapmobile in front of my house during daylight hours enough punishment?

    The city's "pay me on line and you get a waiver" program essentially renders the ban (i) a fee grab from those in the know who buy the on-line permits to get around the ban, and (ii) a fee grab from the poor schmucks who come to visit, don't purchase a permit, and get hit with a ticket. Like my in-laws three Thanksgiving's ago.

    On second thought, the in laws have refused to come back for Thanksgiving since SMPD nailed them. I owe SMPD for that one. Let's give them more than the 53% of the general fund.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The best way to gauge this city's actions is money. Try and figure what the money angle is going to be. Then when you get that straight, you have the answer.

      Delete
    2. i am all for no overnight parking. i would much rather park my piece of crap truck on my lawn for weeks at a time. sign me up.

      Delete
    3. I was contemplating putting a set of retired toilets in my front yard. They would make great flower pots for drought resistant plants.

      Delete
    4. 813, i think between your toilet gnomes and my beast, we could put these artists to shame

      Delete
  17. The Kensington won't be long term care? Only a taking of the money from granny and then kicking her to the curb? Maybe grany would like to borrow my dogs; their names are Smith and Wesson and they are waiting for the dog tax collector to come around.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Kensington will be long term care as long as the resident doesn't need too much care for too long.

      When the care level rises, the resident will have to move to a skilled nursing facility.

      Delete
  18. Just saw a yes on Measure ALF sign....Is there one that says
    Yes on Water
    so no on Alf

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ALF stands for A Little Foolish.

      Delete
    2. That's a polite use of the acronym.

      Delete
    3. A Liquid Fiasco

      Delete
  19. I've been renting out my closets (MicroCondosTM) for years (no kitchen privileges). Will I be grandfathered in?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It probably depends on how many skeletons you have in there.

      Delete
  20. Well, I guess I'm already grandfathered in then

    ReplyDelete
  21. I can promise you that this subject is way way way complicated and over the head of Josh and Nancy - both will spout nonsense and end the end only cater to those who pet their heads or pull their strings.

    Walsh is rarely prepared or has nothing of substance to add which apparently that is what she thinks she why she was elected

    and Moran has become the John Buchanan of enjoying hearing themselves talk and not say anything of substance or not slanted to benefit their agendas - themselves.

    ReplyDelete
  22. people will vote yes on ALF because they are probably assuming that by voting yes they are confirming that yes - they like ALF from tv.

    and probably don't like cats

    ReplyDelete