Update on Secondary Units Proposal

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

The proposed Oakland city ordinance for Secondary Units received its second public reading at the January 19 City Council meeting. An amendment proposed by Councilman Dan Kalb was included.

Owing to an administrative error, the complete proposed ordinance was not submitted to the Council, and it was unable to take action. The final adoption was rescheduled to February 2.

For each parcel with a secondary unit, the Kalb amendment limits the number of Residential Parking Permits to three permits for the entire parcel. The parcel owner can provide one of those three permits to the secondary unit occupant if he or she chooses to do so. Thus, the concern about potentially adding three cars to restricted parking areas was abated.

Councilman Kalb deserves credit for slowing this process down so community input could be received, and then working with RCPC to address the primary concern - off-street parking - expressed at the RCPC Special Town Hall meeting in December. The ordinance is strongly supported by Mayor Libby Schaaf.

There were also questions raised about "unintended consequences," and Kalb asked that a thorough review of the effects of the ordinance be made by the Planning Department over the next 18 months to be followed by a report of the findings. Speakers also expressed a need for pre-approved architectural requirements that would allow prompt issuance of a building permit with low fees. No formal commitment was made on this issue. Deputy Director of Planning Darin Ranelletti acknowledges widespread support for the idea, but says that new funding will be required. Supporters will need to weigh in with the city on this.

Another unresolved issue is the potential impact of homeowners who offer their secondary units for short-term rental via Airbnb rather than making them available to local long-term renters. Although the new Oakland ordinance does not expressly address Airbnb - whereas a Berkeley law relating to secondary units does - existing Oakland zoning regulations prohibit short-term rentals for less than one week. Ranelletti said that Airbnb rentals are a city-wide issue receiving plenty of attention but that no timeline has been established for creating new regulations for such rentals. The city collects tax revenue from Airbnb, but the intent of the new secondary unit regulations is to create housing for long-term residents, not to create competition for local hotels. On the other hand, secondary unit rental owners would receive income from Airbnb, some of it likely to be spent locally, so financial impacts of either course are hard to quantify. The subject is currently being debated nationwide at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, so it is reasonable for Rockridge residents to raise these concerns and ask that the City Council address this issue.

The Mayor's Office will soon release plans for Oakland's housing problems. Although secondary units are expected to be a part of the overall solution, exactly how that might happen continues under discussion.