New Guest House Regs and the New City Budget Dominated Tuesday’s TO Council Meeting

By Kevin Harris

The Thousand Oaks City Council tried to balance complying with new state laws for Accessory Dwelling Units, and local homeowners not fond of change, Tuesday night,  5-30-17 in the midst of an important statewide housing issue. Later in the meeting, they received detailed information on the new, two-year operating budget for the city, and scheduled its public hearing for adoption for June 13, 2017.

Accessory Dwelling Units (Guest Houses)

Item 8B was a Public Hearing, with the initial presentation given by Community Development Director, Mark Town. It was to amend current rules regarding accessory dwelling units (ADUs) within Thousand Oaks, to comply with new state laws. Technically, an ADU is a separate residential unit that provides independent living facilities, located on a lot with an existing residence. It includes a bathroom, sleeping quarters, and in particular to meeting the definition, a kitchen. 

Without getting bogged down in too much detail, there are three main types of ADU: Junior (a room within the residence); attached (a dwelling outside but attached to the building); and a detached structure on the lot. Each has slightly different limits for things like square footage. 

The big picture issue from the state’s perspective is the need for more, and affordable housing, so the push is to relax restrictions on these ADUs across the state. But from a local perspective, easing restrictions on ADUs will likely impact parking, noise, privacy and the general character of the community.

While the City Council found itself being tugged between state regulators and local homeowners, the one phrase that was not mentioned once during the meeting was “property rights.” The two parties who seemed to be represented were the state, and the neighbors of the property owners – who themselves are likely property owners. So it was a tough, and complex issue, with the Council only having limited authority over anyway. 

For example, the state requires that all three types of ADU be allowed, and that they can not be sold independently from the main structure on the lot. The state places a maximum square footage on detached ADUs at 1200, while the city proposed much stricter standards of 220 up to 700 square feet (later reduced to 600 square feet), and limited to a single story up to 15 feet high. In a nutshell, California is pushing for increased density on residential property, while Thousand Oaks is trying to preserve some of the character of its single-family neighborhoods.

Community Development Director – Mark Towne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the Council’s Q&A period, Council Members Price and McCoy both had concerns with staff’s recommended square footage limitation for the ADUs. Specifically, their concern was that, some residential lots within the city are much larger than others, and that perhaps for those larger lots, the size limits should be increased. 

Towne responded directly by suggesting that “If you look at areas like North Ranch, you have larger lots, four acres in size, for instance. But much of that is hillside terrain, is restricted, is private natural open space, or a field modification lot. So we’re advocating a one size fits all approach,” he said. “A lot of that land is not developable,” he added. 

Council Member McCoy, however, wasn’t entirely satisfied with Towne’s answer, and what ensued was a brief, but funny back-and-forth between the two.

McCoy: “Would you look into it a little bit more?”

Towne: “We could look into it more if the council desires.” 

McCoy: “One council member does.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Council’s Q&A, a couple of public speakers from the audience had their say. Travis Reville, of Thousand Oaks, also spoke in support of a sliding scale for size limit, based on lot size, while Kevin Folsom, of Thousand Oaks, wanted to know who judges what is acceptable aesthetically or not, as far as ADUs or home add-ons for the city. 

Mayor de la Pena then asked if a grandmother, a father-in-law or a sister living in an ADU would be considered “owner occupied” (a legal requirement). The city attorney answered by saying that, no, not unless the relative had an ownership interest in the home. As for the resident’s question about who decides what it aesthetic enough, Mr. Towne said it was the Community Development Department that ultimately decides. 

Before the public hearing closed, however, the real meat of the debate came to the forefront, when Council Member McCoy suggested that some homeowners use their ADUs to house their elderly parents, and as such, need a second bedroom and larger size for a caregiver. But based on the subsequent comments by the other council members, McCoy’s concerns were not representative of the rest. 

Mayor Pro Tem Fox voiced his concerns about homeowners renting out second rooms of their ADUs. “I don’t think we want to do anything that’s going to cause a second bedroom to get built. I think it’s going to cause a problem there,” he said. 

Council Member Adam proposed reducing staff’s recommended size limit for detached ADUs from 700 square feet to 600 square feet. “I think it’s our duty as the Council to protect our neighborhoods,” he said. 

Council Member Price said he opposed the new bills when they were being passed at the state level, while the Mayor had her say as well. “I’m not quite convinced we need to increase the space (from 600 to 700 square feet) to make room for a caretaker,” she said. 

McCoy, the lone dissenter, once again spoke up, before a vote was taken. “Just take a look at Zillo and there’s next to nothing. We talk about a need for affordable housing. We’re concerned with our elderly… I just think in time, this needs to be looked at in a greater capacity,” he said. 

Council Member Adam made the final motion for a 600 square foot size limit, and to follow the other city staff recommended regulations for ADUs, and to revisit the issue again in one year. The motion passed unanimously.

Proposed Two-Year Budget

Item 10A was a Study Session for the Council to receive a detailed report on the proposed City Budget for years 2017-18, and 2018-19, and to schedule the follow-up public hearing for formal adoption on June 13, 2017. The budget proposal was presented by Finance Director, John Adams.

The budget focused largely on the general fund, and showed a general trend of expenditure growth outpacing revenues. Though Adams’ report was extremely thorough, a few key points worth mentioning are:

• Proposed budget represents a transition from a growth-oriented community to a maintenance-oriented community, and the budget maintains existing staff levels. 

• Thousand Oaks largely mirrors the rest of the state in revenue industries, with one glaring exception; Autos & Transportation. The city relies much more heavily on tax revenues from auto sales than most California cities.

• Most of Thousand Oaks’ general fund revenues come from sales tax, followed by property tax. All other revenue sources represent a much lower percentage.

After Adams’ initial presentation, council members had their say about the budget. Council Member Adam, for instance, spoke in strong support of building and developing within the city. Things like a hotel for Amgen employees; a parking garage for the auto center; and a Sam’s Club, which he said could bring in “a million dollars in sales tax a year.” Interestingly, this was in sharp contrast to his anti-development position with ADUs at the residential level. 

Council member McCoy agreed with Adam on this issue. “Government doesn’t create wealth, it just divides it,” he said. “I’m with Councilman Adam. We need to give our businesses incentives to do well. We can’t tax our way out of this problem,” he added. 

Mayor de la Pena said they’ve been trying to attract retailers to Thousand Oaks to increase revenues, “but it hasn’t been easy.” Sort of like trying to pay the rent on local retail space?

The Council unanimously received the proposed budget. 

The next City Council Meeting will be Tuesday, June 13, 2017, at 6:00 PM. To watch the City Council meeting online, go to: http://www.toaks.org/departments/city-manager-s-office/watch-totv/past-meeting-videos.

Scroll down to “available archives” and click on “city council.”  The meeting agenda and the meeting video are both available there. 

 

Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also a Realtor and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks. 


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2 Responses to New Guest House Regs and the New City Budget Dominated Tuesday’s TO Council Meeting

  1. William Hicks June 4, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    AND, with all the hoopla about a lack of affordable housing while the “Elephant” in the room is the excessively generous open space policy of the city and county.

    Reply
  2. William Hicks June 4, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Consider what exists in Ventura City with “granny flats.” The city council decided to put extraordinary requirements on such dwellings without considering that they were in existence for generations. Much like some of the required coverage that was put in obamacare, they didn’t care that there would be downsides to these requirements.

    Reply

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