ADUs: Two Sides of the Same Acronym

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Op/Ed by Lauren Kleiman, Newport Beach Council Member, District 6

Sometimes called ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units), JADUs (Junior Accessory Dwelling Units), mother-in-law units, carriage houses or casitas, these micro-living spaces have become regular household nomenclature.

Regardless of the label, the general definition remains the same; a secondary dwelling, sited on the same legal lot as the primary dwelling, with complete independent living facilities for one or more people.

In plain English: an additional space with its own kitchen, living area, and an entrance that is separate from the primary residence on the property.

This is a topic I have received many inquiries about from residents and others during my time on the Newport Beach Planning Commission, and now on City Council.

ADUs can provide property owners with a supplemental income source, or offer accommodations for caregivers, aging family members, or adult children who are working toward their independence.

In contrast, the addition of unplanned density creates some uncertainty in the community about overburdening access to resources and services, as well as straining an already-limited parking supply.

The California legislature has removed municipalities’ ability to balance these competing desires and concerns at the local level, however. In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a package of 15 housing bills, and another group of bills in 2022, which have expanded the state’s ADU policies significantly.

The state’s policy changes mandate that cities streamline the permitting process for ADUs, making it easier and faster for homeowners to build them. Additionally, the state has also waived certain fees for ADU construction as well as many parking requirements, and most notably, removed the ability for a city, or even a homeowner association, to preclude the development of ADUs.

And, as many have become aware, the state-mandated and Southern California Association of Governments-directed Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) for Newport Beach is 4,845 new housing units over the subsequent eight-year planning period, at least 2,386 of which must be for low or very low-income households.

Another law, SB 330, temporarily creates a prohibition on the loss of residential units, but allows for the replacement of an existing unit with an ADU (e.g., replacing a duplex with a single-family home and an ADU is allowable while “downzoning” a duplex to a single-family home is not).

As a result of all of these state directives, ADUs have become an integral part of the necessitated solution for cities, including Newport Beach, trying to address the state-declared affordable housing crisis in California, since these dwellings qualify toward affordable housing requirements, regardless of whether they are utilized as affordable rentals.

With each iteration of new legislation relating to ADUs, our Community Development Department staff has taken the time to study and evaluate the potential application and implications for our many residential neighborhoods – each with its own unique character and constraints.

I sat on the Planning Commission’s Ad Hoc Committee, where we brought in various community stakeholders to understand the practical limitations of Newport Beach’s existing ADU ordinance, contrasted with the desire not to undermine the substantial efforts we have undertaken to alleviate resident concerns about bulk, massing and other impacts of new development.

The result is a new ordinance that encourages the permitting of less-obtrusive basement, garage, existing non-permitted, and duplex-replacement units, with parking requirements to remain in the coastal zone and where allowed by state law.

In conclusion, ADUs can provide tangible benefits for some property owners, while aiding the city in meeting its RHNA affordability requirement. That said, we have worked diligently to carve out as many protections for neighboring resident interests as possible, within the confines of the complex web of legislation, and continue to take great care in navigating these state mandates in defense of our residents.


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