Oct. News: Local Ordinance on ADUs (Backyard Cottages), Redistricting Maps & Community Mtgs

Dear Neighbor,

I hope you’re staying warm, dry, and safe during this heavy rainstorm! In the last 24 hours, our City personnel responded to 117 calls for emergency service and 66 locations of localized flooding. Crews have addressed almost all of the 44 tree calls and will be working throughout the week with expanded crews to address all of the downed trees, limbs, and tree debris.

Last week, the CDC expanded its recommendation on Covid-19 booster shots for certain recipients of the Moderna vaccine and all recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This comes after booster shots were made available for certain recipients of the Pfizer vaccine last month. If you have questions about whether a booster shot is right for you, please talk to your doctor.

Please SAVE THE DATE for my Fall Office Hours (with BART Board Director Rebecca Saltzman invited), where we’ll talk about the process for zoning the BART stations for development and answer your questions:

N. Berkeley BART Parking Lot
Mon., Nov. 1
5:30-6:30 p.m.

In this newsletter:

Local Ordinance on Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs (also known as Backyard Cottages)

A backyard cottage in District 1.

Not too long ago, I received an e-mail from a couple—a teacher and a non-profit professional—who wrote that they live in a 724-square-foot house with their two children in North Berkeley. They shared that they would like to be able to add a third bedroom to their home, but are unable to do so because of limitations in our zoning code related to setback requirements.

In District 1, there are many families who live on small parcels who would similarly like the flexibility to create more living space for their family, often an adult child or an aging parent who would otherwise not be able to afford the cost of housing in our community. Backyard cottages—also known as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs—are one pathway that state law has made easier for homeowners to pursue.

For tomorrow’s Council meeting, I’ve introduced amendments to our City’s Local ADU Ordinance (Item #32)—with Councilmembers Ben Bartlett, Rigel Robinson, and Terry Taplin—that seek to make it easier to build ADUs in the flats and place reasonable limits on ADU construction in the hills where fire risk is a real concern.

Outside the Hillside District (in the flats), the amendments we propose will:

  • Allow all ADUs to be up to 20 feet in height, rather than 18 feet. This change is important because a 20-foot height limit gives homeowners more building options that cost less. The extra two feet of height also creates opportunities for better quality design, with more variation in roof pitch and floor to ceiling height, for example.
  • Allow all garage conversions to be enlarged into a full ADU (up to 850 square feet for a one-bedroom unit or 1,000 square feet for a two-bedroom unit). This is important because it’s often cheaper to expand a garage into an ADU than it is to build an ADU from scratch.

In the Hillside District where there is fire risk, the amendments we propose align with the minimum ADU development standards required under state law (that is, 800 square feet maximum, 16 feet maximum height, 4 foot setbacks and garage conversions that can only add 150 square feet). Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who represents the upper hills, has said that she favors stringent limits on ADU development in the hills due to fire risk. Our amendments seek to limit ADU development in the hills to the extent legally permissible by the state:

  • A height limit of 16 feet will mean that ADUs in the hills cannot be two stories and will require expensive excavation into the hillside, making them less desirable for many hills homeowners.
  • Garage conversions will only be able to add 150 square feet, meaning that these structures will likely be too small for most households to use as living space.
  • Unobstructed four-foot setbacks will ensure that there is adequate circulation space in the event of an evacuation.
  • No rooftop decks would be allowed by right (in the hills or the flats).

On top of these limits, the City’s recently amended Fire Code will further discourage ADU construction in the hills by requiring fire sprinklers throughout a property, increasing the cost by $40,000 or more per unit. Fire insurance costs will place yet another limitation on ADU construction in the hills.

I believe that we have proposed sensible safety precautions for the hills and that it would be unwise for the City Council to legally challenge state ADU law, as some have suggested. It’s important to keep in mind that, in the absence of a local ADU ordinance, hills residents can currently seek a permit to build an ADU under state law, but residents of the flats are not able to utilize the much-needed flexibility that our amendments to the local ordinance would provide. This means that there isn’t much to gain by the City Council continuing to delay passage of a local ADU ordinance. Further, passage of a local ADU ordinance does not preclude the City from seeking further guidance from the state’s Housing and Community Development Department on legally permissible limits on ADU development in fire zones, or from advocating for changes in state law to further restrict ADU development in the hills. We also must consider additional fire safety measures that we can take as a City that do not conflict with state law, such as red-curbing some narrow winding streets to ensure access routes.

If you’re in support of these ADU amendments, please let the Council know: council@cityofberkeley.info. You can also share public comment at the Council meeting TOMORROW, Tues., Oct. 26. The meeting begins at 6 p.m., and Item #32 on the Local ADU Ordinance will be heard as the first item on action after the consent calendar; Zoom log-in information is available HERE

Share Your Map with the Redistricting Commission by Nov. 15

In 2016, Berkeley voters approved an Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) to redraw City Council district boundaries every 10 years following the census. The IRC, comprised of one representative from each Council district plus additional ad hoc members, is currently soliciting community input.

Redistricting information, maps, and data are all available on the City’s Redistricting Hub. You can submit:

The IRC will synthesize and balance the public’s input to create a final fair version of a map of City Council districts by March 2022 to present to the City Council for final approval. If all goes as planned, November 2022 will be our first election with the newly-redrawn district boundaries.

For information about the IRC, minutes and video recordings of past meetings, and links to enabling legislation, please click HERE.

Upcoming Community Meetings

Housing Element Workshop #1 Wed., Oct. 27 at 6 p.m.
Berkeley Municipal Pier & WETA Ferry Facility Planning Study Community Workshop #3 Wed., Oct. 27 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Hopkins Corridor Traffic and Placemaking Study Virtual Community Workshop #3 on Transportation and Placemaking Alternatives Thurs., Oct. 28 6-7:45 p.m.
Planning Commission Meeting on BART Zoning and Joint Vision and Priorities Document Wed., Nov. 3 at 7 p.m.