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'Granny Units'
Cute name, bad idea
by Quality B. Gone
April 2005

April 6, 2004:




One Size Doesn't Fit All.
Please consider acting to oppose a "one size fits all" second unit ordinance that will bring no benefit but plenty of trouble to San Jose's older neighborhoods. Write all the City Councilpeople with your views.

Read the NYTimes Article on Granny Units

"Car-Lined Streets" -- read one neighbor's view

Members of our neighborhood association have read the 3/5/04 memorandum by Corsiglia/Haase regarding second units in San Jose, and find that it falls significantly short in protecting the quality of life in San Jose's older neighborhoods. We discussed the proposal at an association meeting, developed a list of objections, and passed two motions opposing the ordinance.

Here are the main objections:

(1) FAILURE TO PREVENT PARKING OVERBURDEN, PART 1 - ONE PARKING SPACE. The proposal requires only one parking space for each second unit. By common sense and by the city's own parking criteria, this is inadequate. Common sense: second units will often be occupied by couples, and couples often have two cars. The City itself uses a multiplier of around 1.5 to calculate the parking burden of a one-bedroom unit.
So if developers wanted to add a building containing 20 single-bedroom units to a neighborhood, they would be required to provide approximately 30 parking spaces. If 20 property owners add second units, collectively they add only 20 spaces, and shift the overburden to their neighbors.
Actually, of course, under the Corsiglia/Haase proposal, owners building second units will not add any parking spaces at all:

(2) FAILURE TO PREVENT PARKING OVERBURDEN, PART 2 - NOT INDEPENDENTLY ACCESSIBLE. Under the proposal, a property owner need only have a two-car garage and a driveway leading to it to have "sufficient" parking by the proposal's metric. This is because the proposal allows "tandem parking" -- it does not require the extra open space to be independently accessible.

In real life, however, many homes in older neighborhoods have garages and driveways that fulfill this metric, yet the house parks one car in the driveway and another or others on the street. Why? Because the garage is no longer used for parking, for various reasons (garage converted or used for storage, SUV too big for old garage, etc.) And tandem parking is seen as a hassle and is not done when street parking is at all a possibility.

Under the proposal, second units would be added to streets with already overburdened parking.

At a minimum, the proposal should disallow tandem parking and require the addition of independently accessible parking for second units. There should also be a requirement that garages on properties with second units use their garages for parking, which would give neighbors recourse in cases of overburden.

(3) FAILURE TO PREVENT PARKING OVERBURDEN, PART 3 - MULTIPLE VEHICLES. The Corsiglia/Haase proposal ignores the demographics of income and its effect on vehicle numbers. The general reality is that second units will attract lower-income tenants, and lower-income people often own multiple vehicles. (Drive around an older neighborhood, and you'll see trade people often have second and third work trucks, delivery people bring their delivery vehicles home, and so on.) The Corsiglia/Haase proposal should take the reality of the situation into account.

A truer and more realistic parking fix is to ban second units in areas that have narrow lot widths, because these areas typically have parking overburden already.

(4) FAILURE TO PREVENT PARKING OVERBURDEN, PART 4 - UNSMART GROWTH. The City has generally recognized that cars are a city problem, and pledged to encourage growth near alternative transportation ("smart growth"). The Corsiglia/Haase proposal is not smart growth; it encourages growth in areas not served by alternative transportation.

(5) OWNER OCCUPANCY - UNENFORCEABLE. It is a good thought to include this provision, but the memorandum gives no indication of how this provision would be enforced. If an owner builds a second unit and then moves out, it would be almost impossible for typical Code Enforcement operations to establish that fact. I know, because I've worked with Code Enforcement quite a bit - anything that cannot be resolved in one or two 15-minute visits by an inspector will not be resolved, period. The proposal needs to either give this provision teeth, or be honest and drop it as unenforceable.

(6) 6000-SQ-FT LOTS - NO JUSTIFICATION. Corsiglia/Haase give no rationale to justify this lot size, except their desire to enable second units on as much of San Jose as possible. In reality, allowing second units on lots this small will create more problems than they will solve. That is why Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and Cupertino all have higher minimum lot sizes for their second unit ordinances (7,000, 9,000 and 10,000 respectively).

In older neighborhoods, lots that measure 45' x 135' qualify for a second unit; we challenge Corsiglia/Haase to take a typical plan for a property of this size and elegantly add a 640-sq-ft second unit that respect all setbacks. In older neighborhoods, the proposal would only encourage "inelegant" and scofflaw second units that would undermine quality of life on the property and all adjacent properties. The proposal has no upside for older neighborhoods, only a significant downside, because of:

(7) LACK OF CODE ENFORCEMENT. The Corsiglia/Haase proposal clearly adds a burden to code enforcement, yet contains no provision or recommendation to increase code enforcement accordingly. The proposal comes at a time when Code Enforcement is not doing an adequate job in older neighborhoods, yet is curtailing services and cutting budget.

Today's reality is that, even though second units are universally illegal, they still flourish in San Jose. To repeat: it cannot get any easier for Code Enforcement to corroborate complaints about second units, yet thousands of scofflaw units exist. To say it a third time: currently all a code inspector has to do is to establish that the second unit exists and is being used as a second unit - and still Code Enforcement has problems doing this. If the City adopts a citywide allowance for second units, it will be vastly easier for scofflaws to add units and stymie Code Enforcement. Imagine how much more tangled it will be to remove a scofflaw unit if, instead of just verifying that it exists, calculations had to be made about lot sizes, setbacks, roof areas, parking provisions, roof heights and pitches, bedrooms, owner occupancy - the list goes on and on.

For many neighbors, the Corsiglia/Haase proposal will immediately undo all the work (years of effort, in many cases) they did to stop a scofflaw neighbor from operating a problematic second unit. These people will be enraged, and for good reason.

In short, especially for older neighborhoods, the Corsiglia/Haase proposal is a boon for scofflaws yet offers nothing but headache and misery for law-abiding citizens.

(8) ON BALANCE, SECOND UNITS DO NOT WORK IN SAN JOSE. On balance, second units will cause more trouble than they are worth; they will add a relatively small number of units to meet housing demand, yet will take a large toll on city services and quality of life. This calculus was made and approved by city residents 20 years ago, and Corsiglia/Haase do not present any rationale as to how the calculus has changed. Has the housing shortage in the South Bay really reached such a desperate level that the City Council is willing to trade quality of life for bedrooms?

Our neighborhood association says "no." On March 23, 2004, for the reasons enumerated in this letter, the North Willow Glen Neighborhood Association passed a motion to oppose the second unit ordinance as outlined in the Corsiglia/Haase proposal, and to urge City Council not to draft or approve a second unit ordinance.

Corsiglia/Haase are proposing a "one-size-fits-all" solution for San Jose, which has many distinct types of neighborhoods. Their solution may be manageable in some SJ neighborhoods, but would be disastrous to others. It is not clear why Corsiglia/Haase are proposing to impose one set of rules on all neighborhoods, but one effect may be to try to set neighborhoods in opposition to each other over the ordinance.

There is no reason why a proposal could not be drafted which would allow second units in neighborhoods that demonstrate they want them, yet continue to disallow them in neighborhoods that would be negatively affected - especially neighborhoods that already have demonstrated parking, traffic, density and code enforcement problems.

The North Willow Glen Neighborhood Association does not wish to foment dissension among neighborhoods. On March 23, 2004, it passed a motion to oppose a "one size fits all" second unit ordinance for San Jose, as outlined in the Corsiglia/Haase proposal, and to urge City Council not to draft or approve a second unit ordinance that applies to neighborhoods without their approval, especially older neighborhoods that already have demonstrated parking, traffic, density and code enforcement problems.

In summary, it may be that some neighborhoods with larger lot second units are an asset. Let the rich neighborhoods get richer; don't make the poor neighborhoods get poorer.

Ken Eklund
for the North Willow Glen Neighborhood Association
April 6, 2004

Copyright 2003