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Berkeley continues updating ADU ordinance and Housing Element

The City of Berkeley is moving towards allowing two story ADUs by right outside of severe fire hazard zones (Fire Zone 1), however state law still applies in the high fire hazard zones (Fire Zones 2 and 3) as the City hasn’t adopted an ordinance for these areas. The City Council has yet to adopt the proposed changes. The discussion is still ongoing regarding increasing density in the high fire hazard areas as many, including Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, are concerned about already problematic evacuation routes. The Berkeley City Council did however adopt provisions allowing homeowners to build smaller ADUs up to 850 square for one bedroom or up to 1,000 square feet for two bedrooms, limited to a single story. 

Berkeley ADU Design by Housable

Berkeley issued nearly 50 ADU building permits in the Fire Zone from 2018 to 2020 or 16% of all ADU permits citywide. The University of Berkeley’s Terner Center determined that SB 9 could enable development of 700,000 new homes statewide, a 40% increase from the roughly 1.8 million potential market-feasible ADU projects which could be built under existing zoning laws. In Berkeley, it’s likely that SB9 would allow for an additional 1,100 homes of the 9,000 homes the city must accommodate to meet the Regional Housing Needs Assessment projections for the upcoming Housing Element cycle. The Planning Commission is also interested in developing larger units so that new parents don’t have to leave the City to find adequate family sized housing. Some members of the public are more concerned that there is a high vacancy rate for many affordable units. 

City of Berkeley Fire Hazard Zones

The ADU ordinance update isn’t the only change the City is making; Berkeley is adjusting to SB9 which will significantly influence ongoing ordinance updates, creating objective design standards, and developing a Base Zoning Ordinance (BZO) which updates the existing ordinance for clarity. Over the past decade the zoning ordinance has been updated piecemeal which has led to confusion. The BZO update doesn’t change any standards but improves the organization and format for clarity and was presented to the Berkeley City Council at the September meeting. 

The City is also updating their Housing Element for the 6th cycle. A recent work session informed the Council of their obligations and the update process. One goal of the Housing Element update is to have all zoning amendments and ordinance changes including the BZO completed before the Housing Element is finalized as they are interrelated. 

Berkeley Housing Element Update Timeline

Berkeley’s RHNA allocation for the current 5th cycle is about 3000 residential units. The final RHNA allocation will likely be agreed upon by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) in December 2021.  The deadline to adopt the Housing Element is January of 2023. The City plans on holding several public workshops and outreach activities, the first of which was held on October 27, 2021. One of the considerations in the Housing Element update is the constraints for housing development including high fire hazard areas. Part of the update will include an evaluation of sites potentially eligible for development through rezoning, transit updates, or other interventions. For areas that need rezoning, the City will apply the new objective design standards for any development taking place. Anyone interested in receiving updates can sign up for a City of Berkeley email newsletter here.

Read more about building an ADU in Berkeley here.