Christopher Neely covers a mixed beat that includes the environment, water politics, and Monterey County's Board of Supervisors. He began at the Weekly in 2021 after five years on the City Hall beat in Austin, TX.

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Christopher Neely here, with housing on my mind. 

California’s housing issues have been well documented. Too much demand, not enough supply. Skyrocketing property values. Battles over single-family zoning. Calls for increased density. Efforts to peel back red tape and expedite permitting, etc., etc., etc. 

Over the last couple years, the state’s legislature has been working to see where it can step in and how it can impact the market and incentivize the construction of more homes. Some view it as government overreach and maintain that local jurisdictions should have full latitude in deciding how their communities are built out. But those views have helped build the state’s reputation as too expensive and exclusive. 

The city of Monterey, where the typical price of a home is now over $1 million (according to Zillow), is in the process of adopting some new rules that are more progressive than what the state has offered. The new rules revolve around accessory dwelling units, or ADUs—a housing type that many see as a crucial tool in addressing the state’s housing shortage. 

State law allows the administrative approval—as in, no city council or planning commission vote—of ADUs up to 16 feet in height in residential or mixed-use residential zones. Last Tuesday, Oct. 19, Monterey City Council unanimously approved the first reading of a new local ordinance that goes even further and would allow administrative approval of ADUs that reach up to 25 feet in height if they are built over attached or detached garages and are located in the city’s R-3 zones. (R-3 zones in Monterey are multifamily housing zones.)

Kim Cole, Monterey’s community development director, says the ordinance would allow the city’s multifamily housing zones to be “substantially more flexible than state law,” an opportunity Cole says city staff and the Planning Commission have been looking for. Cole told City Council that since the statewide ADU ordinance went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, the city has received a lot of inquiries about ADUs built atop of garages. 

Councilmember Ed Smith said if the amendment makes it through all three readings, the new law could mean more improvements to the city’s multifamily housing structures. Many of these, he said, are turn-of-the-century and, in some cases, have fallen into disrepair. 

Although the first reading of the new law received unanimous approval, public comment is still open on the new law and City Council still has to approve it on a second and third reading. Although the change would make it easier for many properties to build ADUs, a major question remains around how to incentivize more ADU construction so more property owners want to build them. Cole said the city’s planning commission will soon be discussing incentive structures and how to tie those incentives to housing affordability. 

On the larger scale of statewide housing issues, this would be only a small local step. Still, it is one that will lessen some pressure on the housing market. And these types of small local steps are going to be crucial in making it easier for more types of people to live in our state.

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