Cities across Orange County are starting to update their regulations for smaller housing units following state mandates for new affordable housing over the next decade. 

California’s housing shortage has been a frequent sore spot between local and state officials, with state agencies mandating affordable housing unit goals that cities say are unrealistic and rob them of the chance to control density, with over a dozen OC cities filing appeals to change how many units must be planned. 

Read: Newport Beach Joins Other Cities in Battle With State for Greater Local Control on Land Use

A new front in that conflict is a disagreement over accessory dwelling units, also known as “granny flats.” Over the last five years, the California Legislature has passed new rules that limit local control over the size and location of those units, setting mandatory boundaries that in some cases require cities to allow more units than they would have previously. 

Those limits include restricting how much the city can control the size and location of the units, as well as making it nearly impossible for cities to require additional parking spots for the units. 

Brea is set to update its rules on accessory units this week. According to the city staff report, the rules at the state level have rendered the city’s current laws on granny flats obsolete, meaning that until new codes are enacted it can’t require anything outside the state restrictions.

The city’s proposed new rules set a clear line of how staff will review applications for those units going forward, requiring a building permit through the city for those that fall within the state rules and an appeal to the planning commission for any that seek to go beyond the state’s requirements.  

To review more of the proposed rules, click here

Garden Grove City Council members discussed a similar issue earlier this week, ultimately approving a new ordinance to set revised local limits on accessory units in a 4-3 vote. 

Councilman John O’Neill, who voted to approve the item, said the new rules can help restore some municipal control of the zoning, but the only reason he supported the measure was that the alternative was going purely off the state’s rules. 

“It’s very frustrating when you have mandates from the state pushed down on you…everything is being forced down our throat,” O’Neill. 

Mayor Steve Jones said he agreed with much of what O’Neill said, adding that this was the council’s third public discussion on the issue.  

“The longer we delay it we’re only shooting ourselves in the foot on it by denying ourselves some iota of local control,” Jones said. 

The Brea City Council meets on Tuesday, when the body will vote on its new rules.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada

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