The case for Accessory Dwelling Units

Posted on January 31, 2020 by Sonoma Valley Sun

I have spent most of my 90 years in the pursuit of protecting our natural environment. Larry Barnett is an ally, who has done wonderful work on the Urban Growth Boundary. He is an involved citizen, dedicated long-term mayor, and knowledgeable planner, but I believe he missed the mark when he decried much-needed backyard cottages (A building industry dream come true,Sun, 1/16/20). Zoning has often been our friend, but our zoning rules have also limited density and thus increased sprawl and exacerbated segregation. We have a growing housing crisis of our own making. The state Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) law is a much-needed step in a better direction.

There are huge benefits of legalizing a casita and converting garages into tiny homes: environmental benefits, social benefits, and local economic benefits. By allowing ADUs in town, we lessen the need for automobile use for errands and commuting. By fitting in additional housing where housing already exists, we reduce sprawl with all of its negative effects. The social benefits come from welcoming young people, workers, and older residents who wish to down-size into our neighborhoods. ADUs are a gentle way to create more pedestrian activity and make our town more diverse.

Allowing ADUs will allow for more of our work force to live in our community, benefiting both these workers and our local economy. These small homes will provide some rental income for homeowners. And by creating more homes overall, ADUs help reduce the upward pressure on rents.

Larry Barnett’s column seems to only see the negatives. He argues that costs will be too high because of the corresponding increase in an owner’s property tax yet, a few sentences later, he is worried about small ADUs not paying impact fees (another tax). He states repeatedly that rents will be too high and then later says “the market will be oversaturated with ADUs.” Economically speaking, “oversaturation” results in the lowering of rents – hoorah!

Larry feels that it is better not to have ADUs on the chance that large companies will profit. This is throwing out the good in the pursuit of the perfect. I am not a fan of our capitalist housing system, but I do have a mortgage from a bank. Big companies may get involved, but one of the many reasons I like ADUs is because a homeowner can participate.

It will get complicated, but allowing the housing shortage to continue is also complicated. We can address some concerns by passing laws to regulate corporate involvement, streamline processes so as not to restrict ADUs, and lower regulatory costs so that more homeowners can afford to build ADUs using their own resources.

We need places for people to live! Our community will suffer if we continue to block modest proposals like legalizing ADUs. The small homes that ADUs provide will help our community rise to the challenges of the day. Property owners, do your part and add a casita today!


— Marilyn Goode, Sonoma 


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