Residents Hear ABCs of ‘ADUs’

City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe speaks to residents about accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and shares collective feedback during a housing policy workshop at the South Pasadena Public Library, Sept. 17. Photo by Skye Hannah

The future of local control for South Pasadena to manage so-called “accessory dwelling units’’ (ADUs) is up in the air pending three bills at the state level that would affect how cities can set standards for their construction and management.

So, in a move to educate residents and gain community feedback on the issue, the city hosted around 30 residents Tuesday night in the second of three housing workshops at the South Pasadena Public Library’s Community Room.

ADUs are smaller and independent residential dwelling units that are located on the same lot as an existing housing unit. According to presenter Margaret Lin, manager of long-range planning and economic development for South Pasadena, ADUs provide an innovative way to provide affordable housing, serve as an opportunity for adult children or senior relatives to stay within the community and give owners a way to obtain additional income if they rent their units.

“The city is proud of the fact that it is a highly desirable place to live, but recognizes that its desirability has created some housing challenges,” said Lin.

There are currently three state bills — Assembly bills 68 and 881, and Senate bill 13 — up in the air that have the ability to change the city’s control over managing ADUs.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has until Oct. 13 to sign the bills into law. AB 68 would prohibit cities from establishing requirements regarding lot size, ADU size and  parking replacement and would require cities to approve permits within 60 days.

AB 881 would prohibit cities from establishing owner-occupied requirements, allow ADUs in mixed-use zones and allow cities to designate areas for ADUs based on availability of water and sewer services.

SB 13 would prohibit cities from imposing impact fees on ADUs of less than 750 square feet, and would delay violation enforcement by five years.

City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe noted there is a “big trend” with the state taking local control away from cities, and the ADU related bills would be a part of that.

“We fight this on many, many fronts every year,” said DeWolfe. “They’re taking away local control. They’re basically saying, ‘We don’t trust you, local government, to do the right thing. We will from now on be making the decisions at the state level.’ It’s horrifying and it’s valid that we all fight tooth and nail every year.”

The city’s current ADU ordinance stipulates that ADUs cannot exceed 1,200 square feet, the minimum lot size must be 12,500 square feet or larger, it must be on the same lot as the primary dwelling unit but cannot be located above a detached garage, the setback cannot exceed 15 feet, it must be one story in height and the owner of the property must live in either the main dwelling or the ADU.

In addition, the entrance cannot be visible from the public right of way and the ADU cannot have a separate utility service. It must also provide living, sleeping, cooking and bathroom facilities as well as one parking space unless the property is located in a historic district or within a half mile of public transit. To avoid the issue of the ADU being developed for short-term rentals such as Airbnb, they cannot be rented for less than 30 days.

South Pasadena Public Information Officer John Pope added that the city is working to evolve its ordinances to enable more properties to have ADUs with less restrictions, which would help the city to have more affordable housing.

“In the past, South Pasadena’s ordinance allowed for ADUs, but the lot sizes were fairly large, so it was very limited in terms of who could build them,” said Pope. “So our goal was to open up the discussion and talk about a local ordinance that would be more inclusive and also help the city meet its affordable housing goals.”

After an introduction to the ordinances and the bills, the group broke into two work groups to provide direct feedback to city staff. They then joined back together to share thoughts on ADU requirements. DeWolfe noted that the varied feedback was useful, and pointed toward the city needing more than just a flat rule for all properties.

“It’s different in hillsides, it’s different in historic districts,” said DeWolfe. “It has to be very context specific. This was really helpful for us.”

Even if the governor does sign the bills and the city’s current ordinances are overruled at the state level, DeWolfe said, the feedback will be utilized as a pulse on how the community feels on the issue and how the city should move forward with future ordinances.

The next city housing workshop will cover inclusionary housing initiatives. It will take place Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. in the Community Room.

For more information or to provide feedback to the city on ADUs, contact Margaret Lin at or visit

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Skye Hannah is a senior reporter for the South Pasadena Review and the San Marino Tribune, covering education, government, sports, features and civic issues. Skye previously served as an award-winning senior staff photojournalist and staff writer for five years for the Rome News-Tribune in Rome, Georgia. You can contact Skye with news tips and feedback at / Twitter @SkyeHannahCA