Fees on 'Granny Flat' construction holding up city efforts to fight housing crisis

San Diego lags behind other cities in construction
Posted at 8:05 AM, Apr 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-13 13:16:58-04

San Diego is falling behind other major California cities when it comes to new construction of Accessory Dwelling Units, also known as "Granny Flats."

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines an accessory dwelling units (ADUs) — also referred to as accessory apartments, second units, or granny flats — "as additional living quarters on single-family lots that are independent of the primary dwelling unit."

The California State Assembly passed a new law in 2016 requiring cities to make it easier for people to build ADUs by easing regulations. State lawmakers see it as a way to help solve the housing crisis.

"The separate living spaces are equipped with kitchen and bathroom facilities, and can be either attached or detached from the main residence."

But in the first 10 months after the law went into effect, San Diego only saw 64 new permit applications to build a granny flat. By comparison, in the same time, Los Angeles got 1980 applications. San Francisco had 593, Oakland had 247 and San Jose had 166. Only Sacramento, with 34, had fewer than San Diego.

Developers think San Diego's high permitting fees are holding up the process.

"People are ready to build a granny flat, they've hired architects and they're ready to go," says Caitlin Bigelow. Her company, Housable, helps people navigate all of the fees and permits they need to build. 

"They just don't want to pay $20,000 extra dollars they may not have to in six months," she says.

Depending on where you live and how big an ADU you want to build, a city report showed fees could climb as high as $50,000. Those fees cover the costs of connecting ADUs to city utilities like water, sewer and power. They also go towards infrastructure improvements and to local schools.

A City Council Staff report had the following list of permits and fees you may have to pay:

  • Permit Plan Check
  • Permit Inspection
  • Fire Sprinkler Plan Check
  • Fire Sprinkler Inspection
  • General Plan Maintenance Fee
  • Mapping Fee
  • Development Impact Fee
  • Facilities Benefit Assessment Fee
  • Regional Transportation Congestion Improvement Program Fee
  • School Fee
  • Water Capacity Fee
  • Sewer Capacity Fee
  • Coastal Development Permit

"When people look at the table of fees, they're shocked," says Bigelow.

The City Council is trying to eliminate many of those fees. In November, the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee voted unanimously to recommend the City Council approve an ordinance exempting ADUs from the DIF, FBA, General Plan Maintenance and Water and Sewer Capacity Fees.

Councilmember Georgette Gomez proposed an ordinance to make that happen, but it hasn't been placed on the agenda yet.

If those fees are removed, a San Diego Housing Commission report suggested that anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 new ADUs would be built in San Diego over the next 10 years.