Sonoma County, Santa Rosa set to ease path for more granny units under new state law

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For more details on accessory dwelling unit requirements, step-by-step instructions for the application process, and frequently asked questions, go to

Granny units are going to get much easier to build in a week, after a new state law aimed at easing restrictions on construction to address the state’s housing crisis takes effect Jan. 1.

Senate Bill 330, which passed with overwhelming support and was signed in October by Gov. Gavin Newsom, is a temporary, five-year measure that addresses a variety of housing construction-related policies while targeting existing measures that state lawmakers believe block creation of new granny units.

The fallout isn’t yet clear for Sonoma County, which already has sought to welcome more granny-unit development by rolling back restrictions that previously applied to about 2,000 properties outside city limits.

Sonoma County will adjust its policies as they relate to granny units, striking things like minimum lot size and setback requirements and warning that private covenants cannot prohibit granny units on lots zoned for single-family dwellings.

California is thought to need 3.5 million more homes in the next five years to stem the ongoing housing crisis, according to a 2016 McKinsey Global Institute report. Sonoma County leaders have set their own goal at 30,000 units over five years, and have for months grappled with a growing, highly visible homeless encampment along the Joe Rodota Trail in west Santa Rosa.

The new law won’t solve the dilemma, but it will spark changes to land use code that will open up more properties to create granny units. County planning officials don’t know how many, exactly, could come under the new rules because their creation is still predicated on adequate water, sewer or septic capacity.

“Accessory dwelling units provide property owners with the opportunity to generate income or house family members, while helping increase the number of housing units in the county,” Board of Supervisors Chairman David Rabbitt said in a news release from Permit Sonoma, the county’s planning agency.

Santa Rosa senior planner Patrick Streeter said the law will also impact the county’s largest city, relaxing rules related to owners living on the property and the number of secondary units that can be on one property. Current law requires people who rent out granny units to live in the main house. That won’t be the case Jan. 1, Streeter said. Further, so-called junior accessory dwelling units — smaller converted housing units — can be coupled with more traditional granny units, giving property owners more options for potential rentals on the same property.

The Santa Rosa City Council is set to take up code changes at its Feb. 25 meeting. In the meantime, Streeter said, state law will take precedence.

It’s unclear when Sonoma County supervisors will be asked to approve their own code changes.

The new law won’t impact current rules prohibiting use of granny units for short-term or vacation rentals of fewer than 30 days. It also won’t take precedence over the county’s exclusion zones — areas Sonoma County has barred from building granny units since 1993.

Residents not barred from creating granny units need only ensure proper water and sewer service, then submit a building permit application for the project, according to a news release from Permit Sonoma.

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at

More information

For more details on accessory dwelling unit requirements, step-by-step instructions for the application process, and frequently asked questions, go to

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