Aug. 13, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The clock is ticking on a program the city of Ojai hopes will reduce the number of housing units the state could require, but key portions of the effort are yet to be implemented.
The Second Unit Compliance Program aims to fulfill a portion of Ojai’s state-mandated housing requirements by legitimizing second housing units that were built without the proper city permits.
Ojai city manager Rob Clark estimates that around 300 of these unpermitted housing units exist within city limits and the city’s goal is to bring them into compliance — while also showing the state of California that additional housing units do exist in Ojai.
“There has been some interest, but we are still putting the program together,” said Clark, who added that at least three property owners have come forward. “We need to establish an ombudsman so that property owners have a way to find out what it would take for them to comply before turning themselves in to the city.”
To persuade property owners to take up the offer, the city is promising those who participate that their property information will not be shared with other agencies, such as utility companies. Once it is established, the ombudsman program — which would use a neutral third party to relay property information to the city —
is how they hope to accomplish that.
“All information obtained in connection with applications for an Amnesty Permit will remain confidential and will not be placed in the building file for subsequent code enforcement action, or in any way ‘cloud’ title to the qualifying property,” according to the text of the program guidelines.
Applications for the program will be processed only until June 30, 2014.
According to the program guidelines, adopted by the Ojai City Council April 9, “The Second Unit Amnesty Program is a means by which to legalize dwellings that have been constructed without record of permits and are not recognized in the city’s inventory of housing.”
The secondary units — often called guest homes or granny flats — must meet several city standards to be eligible. Among the requirements are a minimum interior wall height of 7 feet, a minimum of 120 square feet in at least one room, glazed windows, a bathroom and kitchen, a smoke detector, an approved heating appliance and utility services shared with the primary dwelling.
Some of the requirements for these units, such as setbacks and parking, are not as stringent as those in the municipal code.
The city hopes to encourage property owners to participate by offering a few relaxed requirements and by waiving penalties for code violations. Applicants, however, must still pay the full permitting fee. According to Clark, permits for a typical second unit are in the $20,000 range.
Additionally, Clark says he intends to work with water companies and the Ojai Valley Sanitary District to gauge their response, “so that property owners are not surprised.”
The idea of granting amnesty to granny flats isn’t a new one in the city. The concept originated several years ago, Clark said, with the committee that developed a draft of the 2006-2014 Housing Element.
“In that document, the program is discussed but there was very little detail. After the Housing Element was adopted we had to amend our zoning code to allow the program. That language was put together by our housing consultant,” Clark explained. “Next, we need to develop specific guidelines that have the details about what can be legalized and what must be fixed before it can be legalized. This is critical because there are cost implications for the owners.”
Some members of the public have spoken out during council and planning commission meetings, claiming the terminology “illegal” and “amnesty” are contentious and objectionable. So now, the city staff refers to the program as “The Second Unit Compliance Program.”
The details and title clearly remain a work in progress, even as work commences on a new Housing Element.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view the 2006-2014 Housing Element, and call 646-5581 to learn more about how to apply for the Second Unit Compliance Program.