San Rafael lifts partial ban on in-laws’ apartments


An updated ordinance on apartment approvals by law in San Rafael does not include a ban on hillside neighborhoods despite concerns about fire safety and emergency access.

San Rafael City Council voted unanimously on Monday to approve rules for “accessory housing units” – also known as ADUs or apartments by law – to realign the city with the state laws. The rules also apply to junior secondary suites, or JADUs.

In October, council approved a 45-day emergency moratorium on approvals in some hillside neighborhoods to give staff time to consider whether the city had the power to regulate parking and ban parking. ADU in these areas. The rationale for the ban was that the narrow roads of the hillside communities restricted access for fire trucks and other large emergency vehicles.

“We believe there are ways to compensate for the security concerns without banning all ADUs,” Deputy City Prosecutor Nira Doherty said.

Doherty said local towns and villages are not permitted to impose standards or prohibitions on a subcategory of ADUs that includes those measuring 800 square feet or less; a single internal conversion ADU; a JADU; or DSUs in multi-family dwellings. Most of the applications received by the city fall into this category, she said.

“We cannot ban these categories of ADUs even if there are public safety concerns, even if there are traffic problems and even if there is an inadequate water supply,” Doherty said. .

Over the years, state legislators have passed a series of laws to stimulate housing creation by limiting limitations imposed by local governments. An update to ADU laws in January makes it easier for applicants to get approval for their projects.

However, while examining the San Rafael neighborhoods for fire safety and emergency access, firefighters identified several residential streets where parked cars were causing problems.

As an example, Fire Chief Darin White cited an incident on Fremont Road in 2016 when firefighters were unable to drive their vehicles to the end of the road. Firefighters had to park and transport equipment, he said.

The moratorium applied to some 40 residential roads. They included Chula Vista Drive in the San Rafael Hill area; Eucalyptus Lane in the Montecito / Happy Valley area; Roger Drive in the Dominican quarter; Bayo Vista Way in Sun Valley; and many more in the West End, Gerstle Park, Bret Harte and Picnic Valley areas.

White and city staff have agreed that the newly painted parking lots on some of these streets will help keep passage clear for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles in the event of an emergency.

Some residents were not convinced.

“Parking will not solve this problem,” said Victoria DeWitt, a resident.

Resident Susan Bradford has said in general that she is in favor of ADUs, but only when they are located “in safe areas where there is adequate parking and access for fire trucks.”

“It is dangerous to put more people and goods in these kinds of areas,” she said.

Board member Rachel Kertz called the ADU issue a red herring. The real problem is the non-compliant streets, not the ADUs, she said.

“This provides a housing opportunity that we need,” Kertz said of ADUs.

Council member Eli Hill said he plans to contact lawmakers to see if some of the language in the ordinance can be cleaned up to address safety concerns.

“I support ADU legislation overall,” he said. “But I think that doesn’t allow us the level of flexibility that I think is important to look at in certain scenarios that I think we could apply more objective standards.”

The city’s ordinance will be sent to the California Department of Housing and Community Development for review.

Doherty said the ministry did not actually approve the order, but was reviewing it for inconsistencies. This gives the city the option to change its ordinance or to argue why it complies with state law.

The staff report and the order are online at


Comments are closed.