Berkeley ADU Rules Found in Violation of State Law

A regulation limiting the number and size of ADUs in the Berkeley Hills runs afoul of state law, but supporters say it protects the safety of residents in fire-prone areas.

2 minute read

October 30, 2022, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

View of houses on Berkeley, California hillside

Berkeley Hills | Sundry Photography / Berkeley Hills

A state agency has ruled against Berkeley’s restrictions on accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in its hillside neighborhoods, reports Nico Savidge for Berkeleyside, dismissing the city’s claims that allowing two ADUs per lot in the Berkeley Hills would negatively impact resident safety in the event of a fire evacuation. 

As Savidge explains, “Berkeley’s regulations allow accessory units to be built throughout the city. But whereas homeowners in the flatlands can build two such units on the same property — both a detached cottage and a ‘junior ADU,’ such as a basement apartment — they are only allowed one accessory unit on properties that lie in areas Berkeley classifies as Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones.” According to Savidge, “David Zisser, an assistant deputy director for local government relations and accountability at the Department of Housing and Community Development, struck down that reasoning in an Oct. 17 letter to Berkeley Planning Director Jordan Klein,” writing that “the city has not adequately demonstrated that new ADUs will actually impact public safety.” Critics see the restriction as another way for cities to limit new housing construction in some of their wealthiest areas.

Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who represents much of the Berkeley Hills, said that “state regulators are being too inflexible with the ADU law and should have provided more leeway for cities that are at risk from wildfire to limit construction.” Wengraf says she will discuss the issue further before deciding whether to challenge HCD’s decision. 

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