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.
Here is part 2 of the lightly edited event transcript of Nuts and Bolts of ADUs in Los Altos — namely the presentations by 5 panelists.
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 3 is more audience Q&A. (coming soon)
It’s easier to build an ADU now. But it’s still involved. Learn about the process, the parking, the costs.
Below is the video STARTING at 35 minutes in,
JUST THE PANELISTS
34:30 PANEL SPEAKERS SEGMENT BEGINS
MODERATOR CATHY LAZARUS
After the panelists’ remarks, we will have time for questions. Again, not specifically about your individual situation, but more questions about the general topic that each of these folks represents.
Jon Biggs is the City of Los Altos Community Development Director [Head of Planning]
Fathia McCauley is from the Housing Trust Silicon Valley. They are involved with financing housing construction throughout our area.
Greg Popovich is a builder. Greg’s construction company does stick built conventional construction.
Next to Greg is John Geary. His company specializes in prefab accessory dwelling units.
And finally, we have Jessica Resmini, whose firm does really in-depth designs exclusively for ADUs. So with that, I will turn it over to the panelists.
35:56 JON BIGGS – City Community Development Director
It’s nice to see here tonight all these people that are interested in accessory dwelling units. Our city economic development director asked me to remind everyone that you can’t, can’t have ADUs without YOU. So it’s good to see so many people from Los Altos here looking at accessory dwelling structures. I’m not going to repeat a lot of what we do share this evening. I think he did a great job and I don’t want to contradict anything he shared with you this evening.
We rewrote our city’s accessory dwelling unit regulations about a year and six months ago. And here we are today, looking at all of the state rules and regulations and the changes that have been made in trying to put together this whole mishmash of laws that the state has come up with. Now we are developing a set of codes that the city can adopt and be within the wishes of the citizens of Los Altos, but also within the state regulations. And it’s a bit of a challenge. We’re still looking at the regulations.
As of even this afternoon, there were questions that we were asking one another in preparation for this meeting this evening regarding some of the aspects of the state law. In fact, our planning director was at a professional meeting not too long ago, where there was disagreement amongst the planning directors about what some of the new state mandates actually were. So we’re trying our best to get these laws updated to give you clear and accurate information.
The benefit of this evening for all of you who have specific questions about properties and a potential ADU is we do have our planning department staff here. I think they all stood up a minute ago to raise their hands and introduce themselves and our chief building official. So after this panel discussion, I think it’s going to be a very good opportunity for you to sit down with the members of the planning department and ask questions about your particular circumstances and what you will like to accomplish. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to early on in the process — when you’ve just got this little idea in your mind that you’d like to construct an accessory dwelling unit – do come in and meet with the planning staff and talk about your property, the size of your property and where you are considering putting an accessory dwelling unit. They can really guide you in terms of what you’ll be able to do.
Because as you heard earlier, the state is allowing for accessory dwelling units on basically all single-family residential lots and a lot of multifamily residential zone districts here in Los Altos.
To repeat, you can have an accessory dwelling unit up to 800 square feet. We can’t apply our floor area ratio requirements or lot coverage requirements or design review requirements. There are some specific requirements that the State has incorporated in terms of how close that accessory dwelling unit can be to the side property line or the rear property line [4 feet]. And for junior accessory dwelling units, the law says those must be created within the existing living space of a dwelling. JADUs can’t be more than 500 square feet. You can have both an accessory dwelling unit and a Junior accessory dwelling unit.
So as somebody mentioned there is an opportunity for three separate dwelling units on a single-family dwelling site. The zoning district is still single-family residential. Single-family uses are the ones permitted on the site. The state, way back a long time ago, when it was first adopting its rules and regulations said a city cannot use any discretion or architectural approval or permit process to disallow accessory dwelling units. It [State] said [declared] that a home with an accessory dwelling unit is still a single-family residential use.
So to repeat, we have our planning [and building] staff here this evening. Again, I’m going to emphasize that if you’re thinking about doing a new ADU, come in, talk to the planners, talk to one of the building inspectors. We can give you more detailed information. We do have handouts at the back of the room. And again, thank you very much, and I will be available for questions at the end of the meeting.
40:33 FATHIA MCCAULEY – ‘Affordable ADU’ Construction Loans
Hi, everyone. I’m Cynthia McCauley, and I’m the chief lending officer with Housing Trust Silicon Valley. Does anyone know what a CDFI is? Julie, our CFO and resident of Los Altos knows. Does anyone else know what a CDFI is?
Okay, we’re a community development financial institution. That means that we’re a non-bank bank. And so this designation comes from the US Department of Treasury. There about 1100 across the US, maybe 130 that are here located in California, we have the largest concentration, because California has got a lot of stuff going on! One of the CDFIs do is we make loans that really aren’t otherwise available. We have a construction financing program.
Housing Trust operates in the 13 counties in the bay area. So that is all the way from San Benito and Monterey, all the way up to Marin, Sonoma, and Napa. And I would say as far east as San Joaquin, so that’s certainly a big swath of area.
Why are we interested in ADUs and why are you interested in us? We’re interested in ADUs because we see them as a way to expand the availability of affordable housing for many, many people. ADUs are not necessarily affordable for all. But certainly if you’re building an ADU that creates an additional unit.
We have figured out a way to offer construction financing to increase the amount of ‘affordable’ ADU units.
Since 2000 we have invested probably over 300 million and that has yielded well over 10,000 affordable housing homes. We’ve helped about 40,000 people and well over 6800 homeowners. So as a chief lending officer, I have three different departments that are under me. I have an accessory dwelling units department, we have mobile home and multifamily loans. If you’ve heard of low-income housing tax credits, we provide predevelopment loans for them. And also we have a first-time homebuyer program that provides down payment assistance. That program in partnership with the County of Santa Clara.
So one of our programs is called Small Homes Big Impact. We do quarterly, live educational ADU workshops for homeowners. And we bring in a team of experts where you can ask questions, and you can talk to an architect. You can talk to a designer, you can talk to a contractor. You can get an idea of how to get the resources for building an ADU that’s right for you. We have all the answers. We have open house tours, and we have an ROI calculator rolling out sometime in the spring.
We have a Financing Initiative. We have one staff member is coming on board on Monday, and she’s are going to be our mortgage loan originator, who will be making loans to individuals, maybe to you.
We are also looking at a construction loan program. We got a grant to figure out how can we create accessory dwelling units. The problem that we’re trying to solve is the lack of construction financing that’s available for accessory dwelling units. An ADU construction plan has unproven rental income. Traditional lenders are shying away from making such loans. Traditional lenders see you asking for a bigger loan on the finite fair market value of your existing home. [They may offer you an equity line.]
We are offering a second position mortgage that would be to up to $200,000 on unproven ADU rental income provided it is rented to a below 80% AMI income household for 3 years. [For example, this could be a teacher or your adult disabled child or elder with low-resources.] This program is going to be rolled out in the spring. Give us about 60 days or less and then hopefully we’ll be able to roll them out. But I am ready to talk with you today if you if you’re interested.
46:28 Greg Popovich – conventional ‘stick’ construction company
Hello, my name is Gregg Popovich with Goldbar Builders, and it’s nice to see everyone here tonight. I see a lot of happy faces that I’ve met over the last year and look forward to helping to serve you. We do custom-built and design-build, from plans all the way through construction.
How we started. Both my partner David Madsen and I were turning 57 years old. We decided that since we’ve done everything from industrial condominiums to 22,000 square foot custom homes, to anything in between – hotels, motels, strip centers – that we would start to give back.
And so what we’ve done is start an ADU company back in October 2016. This was prior to all these laws taking effect because we saw an opportunity to help bring housing to Silicon Valley, which is definitely lacking. In the design-build part of our company, we go all the way from designing the unit, helping you design it to your specifications to then coming on site. We do what’s called site-built construction. We come on-site, prepare the site, usually build two by six framing. You can have the house match the main house and have it designed to your needs.
Our biggest job lately has been to help navigate the maze of laws that have come down. I don’t envy Jon Biggs or anybody that is in the planning and entitlement phases of building, nor the building inspectors like Kirk in the back who I’ve met today. It’s amazing what they have to go through yearly to try to keep up with the new laws and new regulations. So that’s where I come in.
I give seminars on the laws and regulations. My seminars are for up to two hours. So, it’s going to be difficult to do this in five minutes.
So, what we do is we look at the laws, we analyze the laws, we see what works for you works in your yard, we look at some of the challenges that you’ll be presented with.
Even though you’re hearing four-foot setbacks, and it sounds so wonderful. Well, there are also things called easements. If you have an easement in your backyard, say a 10-foot easement, you’re not going to be able to build that four-foot setback. So, there are things that come up that you need to know about or need to be aware of. We advocate on your behalf. We go and look at your properties. We make sure that you’re able to site it there and do what you want to do. And then we get into the design phase based on what the rules laws regulations are. There may be underlying site issues; seismic hazards, geological hazards, fault lines.
Sometimes it takes a lot longer than 60 days to get things approved. In Los Altos we’re actually working towards accomplishing this in a lot faster timeframe and get the ADU on your property. Once we’re on-site, that’s the fun part, because we build in 90 to 120 days. So, 120 days afterward, expect to have the keys to your brand new ADU so that you can move in.
We build standard ADUs and custom — you can go on the website/ new section and see photos of some of the standard completed units. Nothing in those standard ones have upgrades. But we can go all the way to custom if you need to or if you’d like.
And our specialty is to build 500 to 1200 square foot detached ADUS. We also do attached ADUs, as well as garage conversions.
Silicon Valley Housing Trust actually had me write an article for them about garage conversions. And the garage conversion sometimes is much more expensive than tearing down the garage and putting up a new one or a new ADU. There are a number of things that make remodeling a garage more expensive. Garages were built to house cars, not people. Among the issues that come up are challenges/objections from the fire departments. We can talk about that more after the panel.
Give me a call. We can talk about your project idea. There’s no charge for anybody. To have us do a consult, you can go to our website, fill out the contact, that’ll give me your property information. I’ll do much of the research before I even call you. So, once you hear from me, we’ll be able to talk very diligently about your property. I will already have Google Earthed it. I’ve already looked for any lot easements, and other potential issues you need to know about. That’s absolutely no charge. But feel free to call me. Feel free to go to the website.
JOHN GEARY – Abodu – prefab builder
Hi, everybody. Thanks for coming out tonight talk. I do a lot of thinking about ADUs. My name is john Geary, I’m here with Abodu. I do something very similar to Greg except I build your ADU off-site instead of in your backyard.
I actually was born raised in Cupertino. And I think to myself, wow, how am I ever going to buy a house over here? I like to think ADUs are helping contribute to the solution to the housing problem by adding a bit more housing stock and making it easier for multi-generational families on properties to actually utilize their space. So, thus comes Abodu with its prefabricated ADUs.
Let me start by talking a little bit more about two main ways of producing prefabricated ADUs. They can be entirely built off-site, and then an entire fully completed structure arrives at your front door and is craned into your backyard. Or It can be panelized so that different portions of the building are actually built off-site brought on site. But then you still have an on-site construction process.
Those are of two main ways of doing pre-fab. There are pros and cons of each. They both allow quite a bit speed and take some of the construction process out of your backyard. But they do both sacrifice some customization. So that’s a key thing to remember with prefabrication – typically your structure is set. Yet you can you can customize things like your siding, or roofing, or windows, and the interior finishes. But aren’t going to be able to move around the placement of windows or walls throughout.
Yet you can you can customize things like your siding, or roofing, or windows, and the interior finishes.
However, with that customization comes quite a bit of known factors. One is a pretty good grasp on cost. You’re going to go into a prefabricated project with a pretty dang good understanding of what this project going to cost you. Because we do it every single week in our factory, we know exactly what our costs are.
And we have time savings, you don’t have all the construction process happening in your backyard. So what happens is that we take that same construction method that you would see on a typical site build, but we do it underneath the factory’s roof instead of in your backyard. At your site, we take care of the foundation, the utilities, and all the hookups that are needed for utilities. Then we deliver the completed unit to your home. So those are kind of the pros and cons of working with a prefabricated builder.
At your site, we take care of the foundation, the utilities, and all the hookups that are needed for utilities.
At Abodu we only have two models – one 500 square foot and another 335 square foot. So we can’t help you with highly customized work like Greg at Goldbar might do for you. Our ADUs are on the smaller side. We designed our models around what will fit in most backyards. So for Abodu an 800 square foot ADU is a little bit out of our scope, and a 1200 square foot ADU is definitely out of our scope, but a 500 square-foot or 330 square-foot ADU is right in our wheelhouse. We can move really quickly with you to achieve that.
What is quick? Just two weeks ago, we delivered two homes, one on a Tuesday, one on a Thursday. Both of those had been permitted in the first week of December. So that is less than two and a half months from permit to actually installing the homes and handing over the keys to the home. That’s very quick and on a very tight, conforming project budget. The clients knew exactly what they’re paying going into their projects. So that’s some of the pros of prefabricated ADUs.
So that is less than two and a half months from permit to actually installing the homes and handing over the keys to the home
One thing I would caution you about when thinking about prefabricated ADUs is to research what building code the provider is following. There’s federal HUD code, and California HCD code. HUD code is not built to California Building Code. It is built to a federal guideline and is a questionable form of building when it comes to actually installing an ADU on your site in California. California City Planners and City building inspectors will mention this to you. But oftentimes, it’s tough to find the information on what the differences are.
HCD is a California State agency [Housing and Community Development] that approves plans and specs of pre-fab ADU units being constructed in a factory. That means such a unit is being built to California Building Code, to California Energy code and is fully compliant with any structure that you’d be building your backyard already. So, I do caution you to ask questions of your pre-fabricated builder before you dive headfirst into a project.
We are a relatively new company as are most fabricated builders. We haven’t been building for 30 years like many stick construction builders. But we’ve partnered with factories that have been building pre-fabs for decades. Even though we’re a new company, we’re seeing a lot of homeowners get really excited about the prefabricated process and about being able to take a lot of that construction activity out of their backyard. Even as a new company, we’re doing 12 projects right now across the bay area. We have multiple units installed and multiple coming up for installation in the next month or so.
So ask your pre-fab builder about their building code standard and how quickly and cost transparently they can deliver.
56:32 JESSICA RESMINI
My name is Jessica Resmini and I’m with ADUCollective. You folks have so many options at your fingertips. Design-build. Prefab. There are a ton of architects out there that are specializing in ADUS. ADUCollective, as the name suggests, is on a mission to spread the development of little housing units, thereby helping solve our pretty big housing crisis. So that to me feels really awesome. And I think if any of you are considering this, you can give yourself a pat on the back as well!
The other really exciting news is that it’s a win for all of you. The beauty of the ADU is that everyone can win because an ADU can bring flexibility to your family life. So ADUCollective is basically the city, the owner, and the community working together to help solve this housing crisis.
Why might you choose ADUCollective rather than maybe a prefab solution? Personally, I actually do hope that as a society many more will move in the prefab direction. But with this spread of development, especially infill development, things can get a little complicated.
If your project makes sense to do prefab, you definitely should do that. But like Greg with Goldbar was saying, there all kinds of issues/nuances/challenges. Every property is different. So, when I start a project, I basically throw away any preconceived notions for the most part. Basically, the client and I go on this problem-solving journey together. So, we would go down to the planning/building department and ask the questions. Always start there, take really good notes, follow up with the name, email confirm what you heard because these rules are changing.
And the changing rules can be really heartbreaking. I sent an email today to the city of Palo Alto saying, “I think I’m going to cry if we can’t stick to some rules and definitions.”
So, the good news is in the next couple of months, we can hope all of these rules are going to get solidified by cities, and we will have clear direction from city staff.
What makes ADUCollective different from a traditional architecture firm?
I did my first couple ADUs in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. I thought, Whoa, there’s something here. These projects are just so fun to do. They’re not like designing somebody’s main home that they want to have Thanksgiving in this coming Thanksgiving. So, an architect can have a little bit of fun with and ADU.
As an architect, I decided to just streamline and focus on ADUs.
So basically, what makes ADUCollective different from a traditional architecture firm is “mass customization.” My “prefab” component — what streamlines our process — is my production drawings. I have a set of drawings that can be tailored with all your specifications We take your custom design, put that into the drawings and generate your ADU plans.
My favorite part of the ADU design process is working with the homeowner to solve the issues of their site and meet their space needs so they can get the most out of every inch. I think that’s so fun.
And what else do we do? We provide you with lots of information and collaboration.
I use Hover, which is 3d software and imaging, so we can generate for you any of your existing structures automatically in 3d. Then we generate the ADU design in 3d.
For project management we use Asana, so our clients are brought along on the timeline and on the scheduling.
I do a lot of remote video meetings and screen sharing with clients. I think one of the hardest things can be scheduling time to actually meet and check in regularly with clients. In this area we live in, everyone is so busy.
So that’s ADUCollective, I want people to realize that when you are building an ADU you are in fact building a house. Remember to set reasonable expectations when you start your process.
LINK TO TRANSCRIPT for Part 1 of the event – Nuts and Bolts of ADUs in Los Altos