A pair of state laws went into effect in January, aimed at building more granny flats to ease the housing crunch.

AB 2299 and SB 1069 together encourage granny flats – also known as accessory dwelling units – by easing requirements normally faced when building homes, like the number of parking spaces that must be provided, the distance the building must be from the property line, and costs for hooking up utilities.

This could be an important source of affordable housing in North County, where multi-family projects are slow to materialize, and residents fight to preserve a “small town character.”

These units are often more affordable because they are small, or involve unconventional living situations, like a shared bathroom. Neighbors frequently oppose them, however, because they can be used as vacation rentals, and can strain on-street parking, among other issues.

As a result, cities have made it difficult for homeowners to build granny flats. But the new laws aim to make it easier for them by setting limits on what standards cities can impose, and requiring approval through a planning department, rather than a public hearing.

For parking, that means detached granny flats only have to provide one space per bedroom or unit. Even that requirement can be waived if the home is close to public transit, or is part of the main residence.

The bills also let homeowners create granny flats within the setback distance, if the unit is built within an existing structure, like a garage, and reduce the fees for connecting the unit to utilities.

But the bills do allow cities to clamp down in one aspect: short-term vacation rentals.

Cities can put conditions on new granny flats that require minimum rentals of 30 days.

Will Anyone Do It?

Oceanside is in the early stages of updating its rules, but a draft ordinance says granny flats can’t be rented for less than 31 days at a time.

City Planner Jeff Hunt said it’s still very early in the process, and that condition could be removed, since the city takes a lenient position on vacation rentals.

He also added that effectively banning vacation rentals could be problematic with the Coastal Commission, and any changes in the coastal zone (essentially west of Interstate 5)  would have to go through them as well.

San Diego’s city attorney just determined that vacation rentals were illegal but the mayor said he won’t enforce that conclusion.

Encinitas is also looking to update their rules, and is lobbying the state to ease building code requirements for granny flats. That’s to make it easier to count their estimated 1,000 units toward their affordable housing need.

Sheriff’s Department Cleared in Suicides of Two Inmates

This month, the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board reviewed two suicides that happened at the Vista Detention Facility in 2013 and 2015.

In both cases, CLERB, which is tasked with overseeing deaths and complaints of abuse by the Sheriff’s Department, cleared deputies of any wrongdoing, despite visible ligature marks on one man’s neck, and documented mental illness and history of suicide in the other man’s case.

Davis writes:

In both cases, despite obvious, documented warning signs that the men were at risk, the board found sheriff’s deputies weren’t at fault for not placing either man on suicide watch. In both cases, deputies appeared to base their decision not to place the men on suicide watch simply because neither man answered “yes” to the question, “Are you suicidal?”’

After the Sheriff’s Department settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the family of Robert Lubsen, the man who took his life in 2013, Sheriff Bill Gore admitted to Lubsen’s family that things were “overlooked” when he was booked and that suicide-prevention protocols had been put in place.

North County Cities’ Electoral Methods All Grown Up

Voting rights advocates appear to be making a sweep of the 78 corridor, causing two more cities to consider switching from at-large voting to district elections.

In 2013, Escondido settled a lawsuit that alleged voting-rights violations, and last year San Marcos voluntarily changed its system in response to a threat of a similar lawsuit by attorney Kevin Shenkman. The result was both those cities establishing City Council districts, rather than one large district, where council members are chosen city-wide.

Now Vista and Oceanside face similar lawsuits, on behalf of the Southwest Voter Registration Project, a Latino voting-rights group.

Vista is accused of violating the voting-rights of Latinos in the city, because Latino neighborhoods voted for Erubey Lopez in the November election, but Lopez only got the fifth highest number of votes city-wide, and was not elected. Shenkman’s letter says this is an example of Latinos being unable to affect the outcome of the election.

On Tuesday, Vista’s City Council unanimously decided to move ahead with the process of switching to district elections, and held the first of four public hearings to consider the boundaries of the districts.

Most people who spoke were in favor of switching to district elections, because it provided a better opportunity for candidates with less money.

Council members took a different tact, and often referred to the lawsuit as a financial decision, and the switch to district elections like a big-city value being imposed on a small town.

“I think this is horrible for my city “If (a lawsuit) wasn’t going to cost $5 million and we still lose, I would adamantly oppose and kick and scream like crazy, but this is the one fight…I walked in and lost before I threw a punch,” said Councilman Joe Greene.”

“This is basically a shakedown by the State of California, and it’s a rigged system,” said Councilwoman Amanda Rigby. “We’re a small, little city, and I believe having districts is wrong for us at this time.”

“I don’t think we see color in Vista,” said Councilman Aguilera, the only Latino on the dais.

Oceanside will also take up the issue in April, but at least two council members have been more receptive.

“We are planning to respond to the notification letter by complying with State and Federal regulations,” Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery said by email. There is no need losing an expensive lawsuit and then having to do the district work anyway.

“I’m sure they’ve done their homework,” Councilwoman Esther Sanchez told the Union-Tribune, referring to the claim that the Latino vote is diluted. “Besides that, it’s the right thing to do.”

Also in the News

The administration of an Escondido middle school has been replaced after a video surfaced of two teens fighting, while an administrator just looked on. (Union-Tribune)

After the House of Representatives withdrew a vote on the Republican healthcare plan, an ad aired, thanking Rep. Darrell Issa for voting for it. (NBC7)

Vulnerable Republicans, like Issa, are distancing themselves from President Trump. (Sacramento Bee)

A Vista man is now co-author of the popular hiking guide, “Afoot & Afield San Diego County.” (Union-Tribune)

Doug Applegate’s campaign cleared up the unexplained $400,000 drop in cash from the campaign. (Union-Tribune)

Oceanside will replace a 90-year old bridge over the San Luis Rey River on Coast Highway. (Union-Tribune)

Ruarri Serpa is a freelance writer in Oceanside. Email him at ruarris@gmail.com and find him on Twitter at @RuarriS.

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