Santa Maria Planning Commission dissects ADU protocols

The public will have a chance to weigh in on some new rules regarding accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in Santa Maria at an upcoming study session.

January 2024 is the earliest the hearing could occur, Planning Division Manager Dana Eady said during the Santa Maria Planning Commission’s Nov. 1 meeting, after commissioners could not come to a consensus about moving a list of ADU policy revisions forward to the City Council.

“I think it just needs more discussion,” Planning Commissioner Robert Dickerson said, before suggesting that the Planning Commission table the item until a study session can be held.

The municipal code revisions in question were drafted by city staff in order to appease some state mandates on ADUs that the city is not currently conforming to. According to the staff report, the city’s protocol on ADUs was last refined in July 2022 and is not consistent with newer state legislation—AB 2221 and SB 897—that became effective in January 2023.

Current state legislation permits some types of ADUs to have higher height allowances than what’s presently allowed in Santa Maria, as well as ADUs that encroach into front yard setbacks if certain requirements are met, regardless of what type of residential zone district the ADU is located in.

The city’s existing standard on front yard setbacks is to comply with rules specific to the applicable residential zone. During the Nov. 1 meeting, Planning Commissioner Tom Lopez asked staff if there was any room for leeway on keeping some restrictions in place on front yard ADUs, in order to “keep neighborhoods looking like neighborhoods.”

“Even with a study session, I wouldn’t have any more to add onto that because the state law doesn’t allow us to add any more restrictions to that,” Eady replied.

After some deliberation, Planning Commissioner Esau Blanco motioned that the Planning Commission recommend that the City Council adopt staff’s code revisions, which was seconded by Planning Commissioner Yasameen Mohajer.

The motion failed 2-2, with Lopez and Planning Commission Chair Tim Seifert dissenting. Dickerson abstained from voting, but not due to a conflict of interest.

“I cannot express any more than I have many, many times in the past my disdain for what Sacramento is doing to our way of life,” Dickerson said. “I do recognize that it is not us, it is Sacramento. I get that.”

Dickerson said that an increase of ADUs in Santa Maria due to fewer restrictions would negatively impact residents, “certainly residents who have lived in an area a long time, and then ADUs are popping up versus new developments.”

“At least with new developments, the residents have their own choices as to whether or not they want to live in an impacted area,” Dickerson added. “But having this inflicted upon our residents is just unconscionable.” 

Dickerson called for a study session to examine the proposed code revisions more thoroughly, and clarify some specifics on ADU policies outside of the state’s purview, such as landscaping standards.

Lopez seconded Dickerson’s motion, which passed 5-0.

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