City’s 2017 ordinance sparks big questions about little dwellings
Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / January 15, 2018
The city has seen some modest successes with the new law since its passage in April. Traditionally, the city has seen only about four accessory-dwelling units constructed per year, according to staff. Last year, planners had issued permits for nine new ADUs. Another 14 applications are currently under review, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.
But as the commission learned on Wednesday, the new law is also riddled with kinks and ambiguities, which at times lead to confusion and unintended consequences.
Councilmembers Wolbach, Tanaka and Fine have stretched their wings as part of the new Council majority with policy proposals that would worsen the city’s jobs/housing imbalance and shift parking and traffic burdens to residents. Along the way, they have employed tactics that sidestep City staff, exclude public input and forego opportunities for compromise, undermining public trust and repeatedly raising widespread and vocal community concern.
Last month, in a last minute policy shift, a divided City Council voted to allow the construction of second homes (known as accessory dwelling units or ADUs) on any property in single family neighborhoods, within six feet of side and rear property lines and with no on-site parking or design review requirements.
In doing so, Council rejected a publicly vetted and broadly supported staff recommendation in favor of a final hour proposal that reduces privacy protections and creates additional parking impacts. Most residents, including those objecting to portions of the new ordinance, support more ADUs. But many thought abandoning the compromise recommendation amounted to bait and switch policy-making that invalidated years of public participation.