Here is part 3 of the lightly edited event transcript of Nuts and Bolts of ADUs in Los Altos — namely the final audience Q&A session including info on ADU costs.
On Feb.27, 2020 the Los Altos Affordable Housing Alliance held a public event – Nuts and Bolts of ADUs in Los Altos 2020 – in collaboration with the City of Los Altos Planning and Building Departments and with representatives of the local construction industry. About 200 people attended the presentations and participated in Q&A.
Part 1 is the presentation by the City of Los Altos Planning Services Manager Guido Perspicone. He discusses the main provisions of the State laws that went into effect Jan. 1, 2020 and how they change ADU regulations in Los Altos. And there is also Q&A with the audience before the intermission. LINK TO TRANSCRIPT PART 1
Part 2 is the remarks of the 5 panelists – City Planner, ADU Finance, ADU Construction & Site prep gotchas, ADU Design. LINK TO TRANSCRIPT PART 2
It’s easier to build an ADU now. But it’s still involved. Read all the transcripts. Or view the video of the event. Learn about the process, the parking and other regulations, the costs.
CLICK video to start at THIRD PART OF THE EVENT VIDEO – More Audience Q&A
MODERATOR 1:01:56 – MORE AUDIENCE Q & A
Let’s ask more questions now. These are again, clarifying questions not necessarily geared to your specific property or the project that you’ve been thinking about. And then after we answer those questions, we will adjourn and you can ask these folks all of your individual questions or things about your property.
AUDIENCE QUESTION 19: 1) Property tax? 2)Sewer Hookup costs?
So, I have two questions that haven’t been brought up. First, what happens to your property tax when you put and ADU on your property? That’s question number one.
Number two. Can someone talk about the fact that if you have an ADU in the back of a 100-foot deep lot and your existing house sewer system hookup is going out the front of your lot, and you’re not allowed to tie into the houses sewer system…that you’re going to have to have a pump system. And it’s going to run nearly the entire length of their lot to reach the street and be very costly. What might that cost?
GREG POPOVICH 1:03:28 – 1)Property Tax
Once again, Gregg Popovich, Goldbar Builders. I did a seminar with Mr. Stone, the tax assessor for Santa Clara County. And what I understand – and you need to verify this with your accountant and also with the city and the county – is that the property tax – say it was a $200,000 or $300,000 build – what the assessor will do is add that amount onto your property tax bill. So if your property tax bills assessed value based on when you bought the house has risen to say $27,000. Now after the $300,000 ADU built, your property will be assessed at $327,000. So that’s my understanding. It’s not reassessed, your land and main house property are not reassessed. But the amount that you’re adding to your property is now added onto your assessed value on your property tax bill. And then your new tax bill is calculated off of the new assessed value versus off of the old number related to when you bought the property [ in 1949? Transcriber: In Greg’s example, the annual tax might rise from $200 to $3000 a year, just a swag.]
So that’s my understanding. It’s not reassessed, your land and main house property are not reassessed. But the amount that you’re adding to your property is now added onto your assessed value on your property tax bill. And then your new tax bill is calculated off of the new assessed value – Greg Popovich
JOHN BIGGS 2) Sewer
As Ms. Bressack points out, if you do construct an accessory dwelling unit, you do need a separate lateral that goes from that unit to the main sewer line. And depending on where that accessory dwelling unit is located, you are going to have to trench out to that main sewer line. So that’s a cost similar to a cost that Mr. Popovich brought up regarding converting a garage into an accessory dwelling unit. That’s one thing you need to be mindful of. It’s nice to have this panel up here this evening. They have experience in running into these costs that maybe you, as a homeowner are not familiar with, but people in the building or construction trades know they may run into unexpectedly.
AUDIENCE QUESTION 19: – WHAT DOES AN ADU COST?
We keep talking about cost. We kind of danced around ADU cost, what does it cost, $5oo a square foot, or is it less? Can you give me any ballparks on ADU cost?
JESSICA RESMINI, ADU Collective 1:05:34
We’re used to quantifying construction per square foot. But you really can’t do that with these structures. You have all the same parts of a house, but you don’t have the larger square footage to spread that ADU cost out over. So, I’m really interested in using the Santa Clara 21 elements of an ADU cost planning sheet., It’s a great way to start estimating. I also have it on my website.
I’m seeing a conversion ADU costing around 150,000 – $170,000, maybe more… easily. For a new attached ADU $300,000 .
But hardly any client does just the ADU project. They may also want to move forward on a kitchen remodel in the main house at the same time. And so, it starts to snowball into a bigger project. Know that when you start this, ADU cost can become expensive, unless you’re really, really mindful.
JOHN GEARY, Abodu 1:06:43
I think it’s also important to add that the ADU cost of the project is partially determined by your current site infrastructure. If you have an old electric panel that was built in the 70s, you’re going to have to upgrade that. If you have a really old sewer line that needs to be upgraded, well while you’re going to have to upgrade it. Things you uncover, that you aren’t expecting, do pop up all the time. So, having a realistic understanding of your current infrastructure is really important in order to estimate what you’re “all in” cost is going to be.
If you have an old electric panel that was built in the 70s, you’re going to have to upgrade that.- John Geary
Another thing on the ADU cost is a standard ADU quite a bit different than a custom ADU. Your ADU cost can go up significantly just by adding a different cabinetry set or different flooring, or if you want flooring that is bamboo or a special exotic wood rather than some standard foot vinyl plank flooring. It really depends on the customization level as to what you’re looking at on a square foot basis.
Our backyard detached cottages start in the mid $190,000s. But that’s for a 500 square foot unit. But there are also things that go on top of that, permits fees, and an allowance for utility tie-ins. In Los Altos our standard $4000 allowance would not be enough. When you do tie into the lateral in the front yard, you have a number of things that come into play — you’re going to be saw cutting through driveways, through walkways through the stones that you just had placed in your landscaping. So, there are development costs that come in to play over and above the construction ADU cost.
Our backyard detached cottages start in the mid $190,000s. But that’s for a 500 square foot unit. But there are also things that go on top of that, permits fees, and an allowance for utility tie-ins.
So, it’s really difficult to put a square footage price on it. There are so many variables, I’ll share this one really quick. We’re doing an ADU currently in Los Altos. Santa Clara County Fire is making us add fire sprinklers to the ADU even though it says in the state statutes that you do not need to add sprinklers to an ADU in Los Altos.
You have a unique situation here in Los Altos in so far as the Santa Clara County Fire Department makes you measure from centerline your street to the back of the ADU. IF that run from the centerline of the Street to the furthest most remote part of the ADU is more than 200 feet [going the furthest not the shortest route around] you must sprinkle your ADU. That means you now have more engineering to do, you have fire sprinklers to do, and you have to upgrade your [water?] meter. In this particular instance, we’re upgrading the meter to one inch. We’re upgrading the mainline to one and a half inches. So, there can be a number of unexpected costs during the planning phase.
Most of the Cities don’t have this fire sprinkler surprise. This isn’t a Los Altos thing. This is a Santa Clara County Fire – which covers Los Altos – thing. They measure from the centerline of the street, while most cities and counties measure from the curb. So, in Los Altos, you have the centerline to the curb of the street, and then you have also the distance to your property line. With those two distances, you’ve already gone through 45 feet before you can get to your property.
These unknown, unexpected costs are why you truly need an advocate – someone that’s done this over and over again. We try and go on your behalf to try to help mitigate, help navigate through these mazes. The thing is, is that sometimes they pop up when you don’t expect them. And even I can’t tell you every single one that’s going to pop up during the planning and the building phase. So, it’s something that we go through together with the understanding that these things may pop up.
AUDIENCE QUESTON 20: Soil reports? My Property tax goes up?
I have two questions. #1 is about soil investigation. What’s the requirement?? And if there are ways to save on that, for example, your neighbor recently did a soil report, can you use their report?
#2, I understand from that middle gentleman on the panel that property tax value will now be reassessed upward. But is the increase in taxable value based only on construction cost? I would like to confirm that. Or would that also include the engineering costs and design costs?
JOHN BIGGS, City of Los Altos 1:11:13 #1 Soil
Well, to answer the question about the soils, it depends on the location of your property and on the soils that are there. It also depends on the size of the unit and whether or not there is a slope to the property, on the foundation system that you’re developing, on the type of framing that is being used. After the program ends, we ask the building officials in the back of the room and get some more clarification on that for you.
City Building Official 1:12:16 #1 Soil
If there are unusual circumstances on your lot, like Mr. Biggs talk about — slopes and those types of things, then neighbor’s soils investigation geotechnical reports are acceptable. [Those are in the public record.]
AUDIENCE/PLANNER QUESTION 21 – Delivery of a prefab?
To install the prefab ADUs is there a minimum clearance that you need through a side yard in order to deliver this thing or is it a typical 10-foot setback on the side in Los Altos good enough?
JOHN GEARY 1:12:56
At Abodu we actually use cranes. We don’t need any amount of minimum side yard separation other than what’s required from fire code which is typically three feet. We use a crane to install it in your backyard. If you have backyard alley access — which some very small number of City of Los Altos blocks do — we can typically pull into the alley and roll it right off the truck onto the foundation. But more often than not, we’re using a crane. It all occurs in the span of about three to four hours on one day.
At Abodu we actually use cranes. We don’t need any amount of minimum side yard separation other than what’s required from fire code which is typically three feet.
AUDIENCE QUESTION 22 – Undergrounding electrical?
If you don’t have underground electrical, can you be forced to do that when you are adding an ADU?
CITY BUILDING OFFICIAL 1:13:52
If you run your existing service to your ADU from the main house [from existing meters/panels?], you would trench that underground, or go under the raised floor area, and then trench from the house to the ADU. [Your very old electrical box, etc., may be inadequate.]
If you wanted brand new separately metered new utilities – which are also allowed – you would be running them underground. So, if you wanted PG&E to provide separate gas and electrical meters, then yes, they would have to go surface lateral underground.
As the ADU builders have suggested, that is, if you have an undersized electrical panel on the main house, you would need to upgrade/replace the main house’s panel in order to run service from the main house to the accessory structure. You would always be going underground on your property from your existing electrical panel to the ADU. If you’re upgrading your electrical main panel on your residence in the same location it was, that connection can remain above ground, does not have to go underground.
AUDIENCE QUESTION 23 – Does City approve pre-fabs?
Have the Abodu pre-fab designs been accepted by the City of Los Altos?
JOHN GEARY, Abodu 1:15:24
The City of Los Altos has not reviewed our prefabricated designs. Our prefabricated designs are actually reviewed by the State of California. And when we come in for a permit with the City of Los Altos, they will review our foundation and utility connections, but the structure itself arrives fully inspected and permitted at the state level. That’s, that’s typically how prefabricated buildings with HCD [California Housing and Community Development] stamps arrive on site.
AUDIENCE QUESTION 23 Fire Sprinkler Issues
I’d love to just ask a question back again about the fire sprinkler issues there were raised. So, it seems that there’s a bit of conflict. And I think this is occurring in a lot of places – between state language and what cities or counties are adopting. And when I read the state language, it says very clearly that if fire sprinklers are not required for the main house then, they’re not required for the ADU. And it also has a very clear statement that says local jurisdictions may adopt ordinances that are less stringent, less restrictive, but may not be more. So how do you manage? Or how are we resolving these types of issues when one agency sets a standard like that – a standard that seems completely counter to the state regulation. But the homeowner is stuck in the middle. How do we navigate?
JOHN BIGGS, City of Los Altos 1:16:39
Well, that’s the good thing about us working on a new set of City ADU regulations to take in front of the council, because it’ll be giving us a good opportunity to resolve issues and conflicts like this. We will coordinate with the county and make them aware that with the adoption of the new state regulations, we are limited in terms of what we can require for these accessory dwelling units. So, we’re in the process of doing that now.
Unknown 1:17:06 – probably City of Los Altos building inspector
If I may further that conversation, I have spoken to the Fire Marshal of the Santa Clara County Fire Department and they have spoken with the state. And the determination they have made is that the fire code trumps that state law on fire sprinklers. Fire code is due to distance or lack of fire hydrants or fire flow. So, it’s always good to check with the fire department again, they measure from local fire hydrants and the distance to the truck and back to these ADUs. So there are different regulations. I haven’t seen a lot of ADUs have to get sprinklers due to distance. There are some, but again, that’s a fire department call.
And the determination they have made is that the fire code trumps that state law on fire sprinklers. Fire code is due to distance or lack of fire hydrants or fire flow.
AUDIENCE QUESTION 23 – Restriction on Rental terms?
Does the City have any restrictions on ADU rental terms?
John Biggs, City of Los Altos
The question was whether or not there are any restrictions on accessory dwelling units and for Los Altos, there are not any rent restrictions. The only thing that you cannot do with a permitted accessory dwelling unit is rent it for less than 30 days. It can’t be a short-term rental; it has to be rented for at least 30 days per our regulations.