The City Council will review new rules to streamline the building of accessory units and bring local ordinances into line with a new state law Tuesday.

The law, Assembly Bill 2299, aims to address the housing shortage in California cities by making it easier for homeowners to build additional units in their backyards and rent them out. The argument: as the children of boomers move out of the house and on with their lives, their parents may want to bring in extra income by becoming landlords to backyard tenants. Since the houses themselves are emptying of children, allowing renters in the backyard won’t increase overall neighborhood density.

The state law hit the books on January 1st and has already made its way through the Planning Commission. The Commissioners debated several guidelines: how large can the dwellings be, where can they be put, and who can live there.

“If we want people to move into Santa Monica and be part of the community, lets do it right,” Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy said during a discussion at last Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting.


Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in Santa Monica are currently limited to a maximum size of 650 square feet. The size is intended to ensure that the ADUs are subordinate to the main house. If an ADU has a second story, the top floor is limited to 250 square feet. During a recent discussion, several commissioners suggested expanding that maximum bottom floor to 900 or 1,200 square feet to allow for ADU’s that might be big enough for families.

“I think the 650 is too small. We spend a lot of time encouraging multi-family developers to build more family units so expanding the maximum to 900 square feet sounds really appropriate to me,” hair Amy Anderson said.

Several commissioners encouraged staff to develop a ratio instead to keep ADUs in proportion to the homes they accompany.


While homeowners will be able to convert garages into ADUs as part of the new ordinance, the commissioners were concerned about setback requirements. Garages can be built right up to the property line, but ADUs generally require a greater setback to avoid crowding against neighborhood fences. Some commissioners worried a homeowner might exploit the loophole: initially building a garage and then converting it into an ADU in order to get around the requirement.

“We have to remember: yes, we are getting opportunity for more housing but we are doing it in our existing neighborhoods that have a particular neighborhood character,” Vice Chair Nina Fresco said, “and we have to make sure that we retain that character.”


The old zoning law that regulated second-dwellings on existing properties said the homeowner must live inside one of the two residences. At the Planning Commission’s public discussion, most commissioners seemed open to lifting that requirement and allowing a homeowner to rent both properties at the same time.

Staff will now take those recommendations into consideration while drafting a final ordinance.