The City of San Fernando is taking its first steps to comply with new state laws that now permit homeowners to add a second dwelling unit on the same property with fewer regulations.

The laws — Assembly Bill 2299 and Senate Bill 1069 — were signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last summer and took effect on Jan. 1, essentially making it easier for homeowners to build a second unit on the same lot. Although state law was already lax on the development of such units, local ordinances could have   tighter regulations.

The new laws, for example, do away with regulations such as requiring parking for units near transit stops, or requiring homes to have a garage or carport.  The changes also shave off thousand of dollars in construction and utility fees.  

Cities could develop their own ordinances to regulate these “granny flats” as they are known, since the idea behind them was creating a space for elderly relatives to live in while, in reality, the units could be rented out to anyone. Cities may create their own ordinances as long as it is pursuant with the state law.  

During the San Fernando City Council meeting on Monday, May 15, the four council members present (Robert Gonzales was absent) unanimously agreed to hire Karen Warner Associates as a subcontractor to update the city’s building ordinances and bring them in compliance with state law but also fit the needs of the community. The total cost is not to exceed $18,520.

Councilmember Joel Fajardo does not think the new laws will encourage a surge of units since, from what he knows, only one has been built in the city since the law took effect.

Councilmember Antonio Lopez, however, believes more units will be built. He wants to regulate where they are built and how parking is provided. He said he’s especially concerned about the option of using car lifts, like those used in larger cities, to maximize parking space.

“My point is, maybe [car lifts] can be used in certain areas but not throughout the city. So maybe in more of an urban part of the city that can be allowed,” Lopez said.

“I’m not opposed to that. But I’m opposed to a single-family residence and then on my part of the side [of town] seeing all these lifts. We have to analyze all these conditions.”

Although state law supersedes any local regulations, the city still can impose its own provisions, including requiring owners to live on the lot instead of renting out both units.  

“There are literally like twenty provisions that we will be reviewing,” Fajardo said.  “For me, I have to take them all in context with each other instead of just cherry picking one here and there.  But I agree with some of Councilmember Lopez’s comments — these car lifts are a ridiculous idea. It isn’t really functional in our community.”

Supporters of the new laws throughout the state say these granny flats would ease California’s housing shortage without dramatically impacting a neighborhood’s character. Opponents of the laws, mostly neighborhood councils, say the opposite will happen; a neighborhood’s character would be destroyed due to the increased density and a  lack of parking.  

The council’s ad-hoc committee is to meet on Friday, May 19, to review all city provisions.