Skip to content

ADU Ordinance Amendments in Oakland Moving Forward

City of Oakland Planning Commissioners recommended that the City Council adopt proposed ADU ordinance amendments which would allow for limited ADU development in the highest fire hazard zones. Staff presented the Commission with two options at the September 15, 2021 Planning Commission Meeting as part of the City’s on-going effort to comply with State Zoning Law, meet state affordable housing goals, and improve fire safety in the Oakland Hills. 

Both options addressed fire safety and emergency evacuation concerns, but Option 1 prohibited all ADUs while Option 2 allowed for limited development in the highest severity zones with restrictions. The Planning Commissioners voted to recommend that the City Council adopt Option 2 as prohibiting ADUs outright wouldn’t solve the fire safety concerns and was generally considered the more equitable of the two proposals.

Oakland Fire Hazard Zone Map

Map of Oakland Fire Hazard Zones and Proposed Expansion

ADU development off of roads less than 20 feet in width and in very high fire hazard areas in Oakland (marked in light pink in the map above) was already prohibited. The Oakland fire department wants to expand the prohibition by increasing the road width requirement to 26 feet, a width more indicative of modern planning standards (marked in dark pink in the map above). 

Deputy Fire Chief Nicholas Luby noted that an analysis of the evacuation routes raised a lot of issues and pointed to the fire in South Lake Tahoe and other fires which resulted in catastrophic losses. 

“This is a long-term challenge that we’re going to be faced with in the Fire Department. Things are not getting better in the wildfire environment with potential for large scale fires,” said Deputy Fire Chief Luby at the September 15 meeting. 

The Fire Department acknowledged the continued threats related to climate change and building in the wildland urban interface. The Department’s recommended method of fire prevention is to limit development in these areas but they understand that the dual need of housing. The Oakland Fire Department is also working to mitigate some of the risks of wildfire through education and vegetation management (check out this Oakland Fire Safety Guide). Over 800 ADU building permits were issued in Oakland from 2018 to June 2021, 100 of which were located in the S9 zone. There are over 19,000 homes zoned for high and very high fire hazards.

While the first option the Planning Commissioners considered would have limited all new ADU development in the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone (S9) on roads 26 feet or narrower, something supported by the Oakland Fire Department, most commissioners were in favor of allowing for interior conversion ADUs or JADUs as it included a provision requiring sprinklers for major modification projects. 

Other code amendments include standards for permit processing, ADUs allowed per lot, size and height restrictions, clarifications of parking standards, as well as other restrictions for building ADUs. The ordinance update proposal also included objective design standards to streamline approval of certain ADUs and the development of an amnesty and enforcement relief program for non-permitted ADUs completed before Jan 2021. If and when adopted by City Council, the ordinance will allow for attached units up to 50% of the existing floor area or 850 square feet, whichever is greater, but no larger than 1200 square feet.  

ADU in Oakland, designed by Housable

Oakland ADU

Commissioner Sahar Shirazi was concerned about the equity of trying to solve what is fundamentally a transportation issue through planning and zoning regulations that impact a small segment of the community with a unique demographic. 

“I don’t know if I’m comfortable with essentially disallowing ADUs,” said Commissioner Shirazi, who was also concerned that the burden of providing affordable housing was disproportionately falling on people who lived outside of the Oakland Hill area. 

The Oakland City Council has not yet voted on these proposed changes. Changes made earlier in the year included increasing the maximum sized ADU allowed, allowing ADUs on small lots, and expanded opportunities on multifamily lots. 

You can learn more about building an ADU in Oakland here.