Amnesty program considered for guest houses

    City officials are considering an amnesty program for second units. Above, City of Malibu senior planner Stephanie Danner speaks on Sept. 11, 2012 at a meeting of ZORACES as City Council members Skylar Peak and John Sibert and Planning Commissioner John Mazza look on. 

    City officials on Tuesday discussed an amnesty program to legalize unpermitted second units and potentially expand their maximum size. The effort comes as the city is attempting to satisfy a state requirement for affordable housing.

    The amnesty program, discussed at a meeting of the Zoning Ordinances Revisions and Code Enforcement Subcommittee (ZORACES), is still in the planning stages and the potential cost for homeowners to apply to the program remains undecided. But staff took suggestions from council members John Sibert and Skylar Peak on cutting fees, an action they hope will attract more applicants.

    Sibert approved of the plan incentivizing residents to bring their property up to standards, praising the application fees being cut since residents would be fined to update the property.

    “Right now, if they tried to do that, they’d get double permit fees for an illegal structure,” Sibert said.

    The amnesty plan targets second units, which refers specifically to secondary housing structures on a property, like guesthouses. The units must be used long term, not for vacations or bed and breakfasts. The city may also be open to allowing more than one second unit, officials said.

    Meeting attendees discussed a tentative framework for residents with unpermitted second units to meet the various requirements for their second unit to qualify.

    First, the unit must be built before it becomes part of the Housing Element, which lays out policies regarding housing. Property owners must reside in the main or secondary unit, while ensuring their unit follows safety and health laws.

    Malibu’s Local Coastal Program allows second unit housing with no more than 900 square feet of “habitable” area. That could potentially change, should enough people want larger units.

    “Malibu could increase the allowable size of a second unit through an amendment to the LCP, if larger units are seen as desirable,” the staff report on the item states.

    Finally, the units must provide at least one extra parking space that runs 18 feet long and 10 feet wide, but the city remains open to possible exceptions.

    A large enough piece of land may be excused from having no additional parking. Or a property may offer three compact spaces, each 8 feet wide and 15 and a half feet long, that serve the main and secondary residences.

    Peak expressed concern over landscaping requirements, urging that applicants must be forced to control overgrown trees to avert fire hazards.

    After the meeting, he pointed to fire safety codes that regulate these matters, such as brush clearance.

    “You need to make sure you follow those,” he said.

    Moving forward, the second unit amnesty program awaits suggestions and review from the planning commission before going before the City Council, which holds final authority over making the program final.

    Malibu would not be the first California city to consider an amnesty program for second units, including parts of neighboring Ventura County.

    The City of Ventura successfully instituted an amnesty program recently, according to the staff report on the item, and expects to draw from 10 to 20 applicants this year. A similar program has been proposed in Ojai, though efforts to get it approved have failed.

    Tuesday brought together the zoning subcommittee ZORACES, led by Sibert and Peak, in its first meeting since March. It also marked the first one for Peak, who replaced former subcommittee member Jefferson Wagner.

    ZORACES plans to reconvene Oct. 1.