After nearly 2½ hours of explanation, discussion and public comment Sept. 12, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors decided not to adopt ordinances that would regulate second residential units in accordance with new state laws.

Instead, with a 4-1 vote, supervisors sent the proposed regulations back to staff to clarify a number of issues, recommend which standard would best apply to all areas and return with the results after the state passes cleanup legislation.

While some believe that cleanup legislation could be approved this week, staff said some of the changes the board is contemplating would require sending the ordinances back to the Planning Commission, so they likely won’t come back to the supervisors until early next year.

In the meantime, the county will be subject to the state laws enacted by Assembly Bill 2299 and Senate Bill 1069 designed to streamline the process of approving auxiliary dwelling units to increase the supply of affordable housing.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf was the lone dissenter in the vote after failing to convince fellow board members to adopt the ordinances that would amend the County Land Use and Development Code, the Montecito Land Use and Development Code and the Coastal Zoning Ordinance.

“I think it’s so important that we move forward with this ordinance, because if we don’t, we’re going to be stuck with the state (regulations),” Wolf said. “We need to take control and we need to do it today.”

But various other board members had problems with a lack of clarity over several issues, that the standards for Montecito were different than for the rest of the county and the fact that the ordinances would probably have to be redone anyway after the state approves the follow-up legislation.

“It just seems to me that this is a tool to increase density everywhere but Montecito,” said 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam. “I would like to see more consistency throughout the county.”

The new state laws require that applications for auxiliary dwelling units, which the county refers to as “residential second units” and many people call “granny houses,” be handled ministerially, which generally means an over-the-counter approval rather than a more formal process that includes a public hearing.

They also require the application to be acted on within 120 days if it is an accessory to an existing building and provide less restrictive requirements for units built entirely inside an existing building rather than as new construction.

In addition, they restrict the scope of such development standards as floor area, parking requirements, setbacks, owner-occupancy requirements and minimum length of rentals.

The ordinances recommended by the Montecito and county planning commissions divide auxiliary dwelling units into three categories, with different standards for each depending on whether they’re in the Montecito area or elsewhere.

Standards that vary include permits required, minimum lot area, lot coverage limit, maximum floor area, parking requirements, design reviews, owner-occupancy requirements and the minimum lengths for rentals.

Public opinion was split, but most seemed to favor holding off on adopting the ordinances, reworking them and getting clarification on some aspects of the law, including the 120-day processing requirement.

Staff said they believe it referred to getting a design permit, while public speakers said they believed it referred to getting a building permit.

Questions were also raised over Environmental Health Department regulations when septic tanks are involved and what would happen to those who already have land use permits.

Supervisors were concerned about the different regulations for Montecito and elsewhere and the different requirements for different classes of units.

“Most people who read the (state) law see this is to be a fast track to affordable housing,” 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said. “I knew there’d be some way we’d muddy the waters. I absolutely have to have clarification of the 120 days.”

He also wanted the Health Department consulted on the issue of septic tanks.

“There’s no way we can make changes without further review,” 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said.

Board Chairwoman and 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann seemed to lean toward favoring the proposed ordinances.

“I start from the principle that each piece of property is unique, every community is unique,” she said. “I think we need to try to adapt (the state law) to different neighborhoods. The state has a one-size-fits-all, and we do our best to adapt it to our community.”

But in the end, she voted with the majority to send the ordinances back to staff.

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Mike Hodgson is news editor at the Santa Ynez Valley News, where he writes about local government, special events and the people who live in the Valley. He has been a photographer, writer, news editor and managing editor at weekly newspapers since 1972

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