Adding a granny flat in places like Tustin and Laguna Beach just got easier. 

The Tustin City Council voted Tuesday to finalize an ordinance involving room additions and Laguna Beach is poised to do the same next week, generally making it easier for residents to obtain permits to build.


Editors’ Note: This dispatch is part of the Voice of OC Collegiate News Service, working with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Collegiate News Service Editor Vik Jolly at vjolly@voiceofoc.org.


The cities are among several in Orange County that have acted to loosen restrictions allowing room add-ons as the housing crisis in Southern California worsens. During an October meeting, the Newport Beach Planning Commission recommended forming an ad hoc committee to further study the city’s restrictions on granny flats, saying that the city also must modify its own ordinance.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has previously signed legislation that restricts cities’ abilities to regulate what in government terminology are called accessory dwelling units and junior accessory dwelling units in the state. The bill took effect Jan. 1, 2020. Among other changes, the state would no longer allow cities to impose restrictions on lot coverage, according to the Assembly Bill

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Before Tuesday’s vote, Tustin’s existing ordinance was out of compliance with California Government Code, according to a city staff report.

Accessory dwelling units, commonly called granny flats, are detached or attached complete living spaces on a lot with another primary residence. The junior accessory dwelling units are contained entirely in the walls of an existing residence and are less than 500 square feet, according to a Tustin city staff report

The main goal of the state legislation was to make obtaining permits easier and faster by reducing local control.

“In 2019, several bills in the senate and the assembly were adopted, which were intended to reduce regulatory barriers and the cost of building (accessory dwelling units) while also streamlining the approval process,” Scott Reekstin, principal planner in Tustin’s Community Development Department, said during a November City Council meeting.

Both Tustin and Laguna Beach city councils gave initial approval to amend their existing ordinances in November. The Tustin City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to give final approval to the ordinance amending and adding to its municipal code regarding room additions.

Making adjustments to its own ordinance is a better move for Tustin, Assistant City Attorney Michael Daudt argued at the city’s Planning Commission meeting on Oct. 26. The commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the ordinance at that meeting. 

“The upside to having our own local ordinance is that we get to control a certain amount of areas, for example, height limitations and objective design standards,” Daudt said. 

Following Tuesday’s approval, Tustin’s ordinance will go into effect in 30 days, according to the city staff report

As of early November, there had been 21 requests for granny flats submitted in Tustin, with most residents requesting additions either in the form of a granny flat or a unit contained within the house. Of the 21, only one permit had been finalized, according to a document obtained through a public records request.

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The Laguna Beach City Council is expected to take a final vote on its ordinance next week, after unanimously approving the law during its first reading last month.

However, some council members expressed concerns during the November meeting regarding the state legislation, and how it continued to cut into local control. Council members also discussed the impact of the new ordinance on both private and public parking, worrying about elimination of parking spots, for instance, when a granny unit is constructed in place of a garage. 

The new state law does not designate off-street parking to be replaced when the construction of additional units commence concurrently with the destruction of any covered parking structure. 

Laguna Beach City Council member Peter Blake expressed frustrations regarding potential parking issues, specifically when it comes to public parking.

“Wherever we are dealing with public parking, we don’t have the right to restrict public parking. Public parking doesn’t belong to us,” Blake said.

Councilman George Weiss said there are both economic and intrinsic values the ordinance could provide Laguna Beach residents.

“This number [of ADUs] might be built. Some of them will never be built. Some of them are hedges, just to say, ‘I’ve got plans, therefore, you can pay me more when I sell the house, right?’ You don’t even have to build it, but you’d have the entitlement to build it. And that adds value to the home itself,” Weiss asserted.

If Laguna Beach does not update its ordinance, the city will continue to comply with state’s minimum requirements, according to a city staff report.

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