Pasadena's Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance Called Out as a 'Poison Pill'

Pasadena's accessory dwelling unit is designed more to prevent than accommodate accessory dwelling units. Planner and Pasadena resident Jonathan P. Bell implores the city's Planning Commission to reform it.

3 minute read

December 13, 2016, 7:00 AM PST

By wadams92101

In an open letter to the Pasadena Planning Commission, the city's accessory dwelling unit is called out for its inconsistencies with state law and the city's general plan. The letter from from Jonathan P. Bell, a planner and Pasadena resident, pertains to the Commission's December 14, 2016 public hearing at which it will consider an update to the city's Second Dwelling Unit Ordinance. The letter argues that the existing ordinance not only undermines statewide and local housing policy, but is legally vulnerable. The law's limitations reveal its purpose to be that of preventing accessory dwelling units, or at least limiting them to the very richest residences. For example: 

  • The minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet represents an unjust codification of upper-class privilege as it limits new second dwelling units to large parcels owned by wealthier Pasadena residents
  • The minimum distance of 500 feet between properties with second dwelling units is an arbitrary and unreasonable bulwark that also constitutes an unjust limitation of one’s right to improve private property
  • The prohibition against prefabricated housing and trailers codifies and imposes upper-class aesthetics and values in an otherwise economically and culturally diverse city
  • The limit of 20 second dwelling units per year, and 200 units over ten years, callously disregards the urgent housing needs Pasadena has long faced
  • The limit of 800 square feet per second dwelling unit is arbitrarily low and does not accommodate the spatial needs of single occupants, couples, or families residing in accessory residences
  • The height limit of a single-story not exceeding 17 feet ignores the fact that many long-ago-built legal nonconforming second dwelling units exist above garages in Pasadena
  • The ban on a second dwelling unit’s entry being visible from the street is utterly absurd
  • The requirement of two covered parking spaces for a second dwelling unit reinforces the unfair minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet insofar as it requires space to develop an entirely new garage/carport for an accessory residence
It is hard to reconcile these limitations with the city's General Plan Findings of ConsistencyAs proposed, the amended ordinance does not 
  • "[P]rovide opportunities for a full range of housing types, densities, locations, and affordability levels" pursuant to Policy 2.1 (Housing Choices);
  • Facilitate a variety of affordable housing types pursuant to Policy 21.1 (Adequate and Affordable Housing);
  • "[E]ncourage, foster, and protect a balanced mix" of housing throughout the entirety of the city pursuant to Policy HE-1.1 (Neighborhood Character); and
  • "[F]acilitate and encourage diversity" in housing options pursuant to Policy HE 2.1 (Housing Diversity). 
Bell's letter provides many more compelling reasons for why Pasadena's ADU ordinance must be substantially liberalized. Bell's reasoning is not limited to Pasadena but applies to many cities statewide, even nationwide. Accordingly, Bell calls for a complete overhaul of the ordinance so that it encourages the construction of legal ADUs.

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