City Council introduces ADU Zoning Text Amendment

After a public hearing, the City Council on Monday, Oct. 10, voted 4 to 0 to approve the introduction of a state-mandated amendment to the Seal Beach Zoning Code concerning accessory dwelling units.

District Three Councilman Mike Varipapa was absent Monday night and did not vote.

Because this was a “first reading,” or introduction, the Zoning Text Amendment will return to the council for a “second reading” and another council vote.

What is an ADU?

The state Department of Housing and Community Development defines an ADU as a complete living facility for one or more individuals.

Council members express frustration

At least one resident emailed the city to ask that the council to wait to review the latest state changes to local zoning rules for the small living quarters before updating the Zoning Code.

At the end of her presentation to the council, Community Development Director Alexa Smittle said she would be coming back with more changes. She said the governor had recently signed a new accessory dwelling unit law a couple of weeks prior. She gave the Planning Commission a similar warning last month about pending legislation when the commission recommended that the council approve the Zoning Text Amendment. The new legislation goes into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

“You don’t know what I think,” said District Five Councilwoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt said.

“I feel kind of the same way,” said  District One Councilman/Mayor Joe Kalmick.

“It’s difficult enough to know that we have these unfunded state mandates,” he said.

He described the changes as unfunded state mandates and said they were not suggestions.

“These are now state laws,” he said.

Susan Perrell of Bridgeport said of course the city must comply with state law, which she said took away city rights. She said a lot of people didn’t like the changes and that they threatened to end single-family housing in California.

She said she didn’t think any of the changes would make housing more affordable and certainly would make communities unsustainable from an environmental perspective.

After the hearing, District Two Councilman Thomas Moore asked what the consequences would be if the city did not abide by the state mandates to change the code.

“The same types of sanctions would apply, for example, if we don’t have a Housing Element that complies with state law, kind of apply here,” said City Attorney Craig Steele.

“HCD can report us to the attorney general for not having a compliant ADU ordinance or having an ordinance that doesn’t comply with law. The housing advocacy groups can sue us to have our ordinance changed to comply with state law as well,” Steele said.

He said Seal Beach doesn’t have a lot of options to ignore the laws.

Moore asked if there are any other cities that weren’t following the state mandates.

Steele said he didn’t know of any cities that aren’t following the ADU requirements. “There are some lawsuits related to Housing Element law,” he said.


The Planning Commission on Sept. 19 recommended approval of  the currently proposed changes to the existing code for accessory dwelling units. District Four Commissioner Patty Campbell cast the dissenting vote, which she described as a protest vote.

During that Sept. 19 meeting, Community Development Director Alexa Smittle told the commission that staff would return to the commission with more changes to the accessory dwelling unit section of the city code due to recent state legislation.

The California legislature has been updating the rules for ADUs  for several years. For one example, in an April 8, 2022, letter, the California Department of Housing and Community Development wrote that Seal Beach had to allow at least 16 feet for attached and detached ADUs. That was one of the changes incorporated into the proposed Zoning Code amendment on the Oct. 10 City Council agenda.

In an Oct. 6 email to the council, made available to the public at the meeting, resident Elaine Murphy wrote that she was particularly concerned with the proposed 16-foot height limit. “Those of us with single story structures are restricted to a 16’ building height limit instead of 25’,” she wrote. She argued that the 16-foot limit for ADUs would encourage unattractive box structures being place on top of existing structures.

Another state-mandated change according to the April 8 letter: Seal Beach can no longer require permits for ADUs; they must be approved administratively by city staff. That was also part of the changes in the amendment on the Oct. 10 agenda.

“On July 26, 2021, the City Council adopted Ordinance 1690 (Zone Text Amendment 21-1) regarding regulations for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (JADUs) in residential zones to comply with new housing laws that became effective January 1, 2020 and January 1, 2021,” according to Smittle’s Oct. 10 staff report.

“As mandated by State law, after adoption, the City submitted Ordinance 1690 to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD),” Smittle wrote.

Then came the April 8 letter from the state housing agency.

“A key change [of definitions] is the definition for Multifamily Dwelling. The current definition defines a Multifamily Dwelling as a property containing three or more attached dwelling units. The modification defines it as two or more attached dwelling units, for ADUs only,” Smittle wrote.

“Staff has identified other sections of the Code that warrant changes to reflect State law. These are not substantive matters. For example, the section of the Code that states the City is to approve ADUs on lots “zoned to allow single family or multifamily residential use” is revised to say, “within residential or mixed use zones” reflecting language in State law,” Smittle wrote.

“State law stipulates that a city shall not require, as a condition of approval of a permit to construct an ADU or JADU, the correction of nonconforming zoning conditions. These conditions include but are not limited to structures that exceed height limits, that encroach into setbacks, development exceeding density limits or development not meeting current parking standards,” Smittle wrote.

New legislation

One of the latest changes in state ADU legislation became law nine days after the Planning Commission recommended the current changes. On Sept. 28, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 897, which requires objective standards for accessory dwelling units. “For purposes of this requirement, the bill would define ‘objective standard’ as a standard that involves no personal or subjective judgment by a public official and is uniformly verifiable, as specified,” according to

“This bill would increase the maximum height limitation that may be imposed by a local agency on an accessory dwelling unit to 18 feet if the accessory dwelling unit is within 1/2 mile walking distance of a major transit stop or a high-quality transit corridor, as those terms are defined, or if the accessory dwelling unit is detached and on a lot that has an existing multifamily, multistory dwelling, as specified. The bill would increase the maximum height limitation that may be imposed by a local agency on an accessory dwelling unit to 25 feet if the accessory dwelling unit is attached to a primary dwelling, except as specified,” according to