While observing homes from the street in a single-family neighborhood, you would never know that a residence has a so-called “granny flat” in the back. The longer-term renters or vacationers come and go quietly, woven into the fabric of the neighborhood.

And as you likely guessed, the dwellers are not just grannies. They may be retirees on a fixed income, yes, but of either gender, seeking to age in place behind a residence in a neighborhood they are otherwise unable to afford. This arrangement allows them to maintain a healthy level of independence, perhaps with a family member or two nearby. “Granny flat” dwellers can be adult children renting a unit near a family home before transitioning to a space all their own. They might be young professionals not quite ready for the maintenance and responsibility of a single-family house but less drawn to apartment life. An increasingly popular contingent includes those seeking affordable options in an area too pricey for them to purchase or rent an entire home, where job growth is outpacing housing supply. They might simply be vacationers or short-term business professionals attracted by renting an Airbnb for a few nights in an established neighborhood with a welcoming host family and breakfast included, instead of at characterless hotels near the airport or freeways.

These units can take different structural forms but are typically detached. They can be garage conversions, stand-alone units, attic or basements or be connected to the main house. They typically have their own entrance, separate from the primary house and include a kitchen, bathroom and living space. These units can be rented year-round and add a lot of value to a property.

In cities all across the country, these units are dotted throughout single-family neighborhoods and are either rented for longer-term periods or listed on vacation rental sites like Airbnb. In Bakersfield, these units already exist in many parts of town.

And for the past few months, Bakersfield City Council members have been engaged in debate about the details of a proposed city ordinance regarding what are officially called "accessory dwelling units,” or ADUs. These spaces are often colloquially referred to as “mother-in-law units” or “granny flats.” Many argue they are a way to address California's housing shortage. I agree with supporters that a city ordinance further promoting local ADUs would serve as a modern update to our zoning ordinances and be in line with state laws that encourage them. However, a vocal group of opponents see ADUs as a threat to the character and livability of their single-family neighborhoods.

One resident noted in a letter to the editor published in this newspaper just last week that the city should require ADUs be owner-occupied. This defeats a main purpose of ADUs as income-generating and is an extreme limit on an otherwise clever solution to housing problems. This restriction is not narrowly tailored; it does not use the least restrictive means to achieve its purpose. And it’s a poison pill to drop into our city’s ADU rules; it makes it nearly impossible for homeowners to secure home loans to finance ADU construction. Owner occupancy sharply limits the value appraisers can assign to a house and ADU and makes the property less valuable as loan collateral.

California state law allows homeowners in single-family neighborhoods to build an ADU as long as there’s room for it on their property. Recent state laws have made it easier and cheaper to construct or convert space into an ADU. Cities and counties can customize the state regulations to some extent. The city of Los Angeles is working on its own ADU ordinance; many cities have already approved guidelines for the dwellings, including Santa Monica, Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach.

Single-family subdivisions and large garden apartment complexes no longer meet all of our housing needs. We must apply creative solutions to offset the high costs of development by repurposing the existing built environment. This will preserve farmland from development and more efficiently use our infrastructure. This can be accomplished through more innovative housing practices, by allowing the private sector to work in new ways. Government cannot solve the affordable housing issue on its own by building low-income housing; this is an expensive solution for taxpayers.

ADUs are in no way a threat to single-family home ownership. Encouraging ADUs will increase the housing supply without hurting single-family home values or the character of neighborhoods.

Due to changing demographics, household sizes in the United States have decreased. But instead of seeing a trend in smaller homes, new single-family home footprints have gotten larger. Simultaneously, small apartment sizes are more in-demand. This presents a gap for ADUs to fill, while helping homeowners generate income from their properties. ADUs could help the community address affordable housing shortages without requiring government build low-income housing, an incomplete solution which is expensive for taxpayers.

To better illustrate the need for this housing type, there is the "missing middle concept.” It describes the need for small, infill, single- and multi-unit housing options, not just new single-family and large complexes. Filling in this missing middle allows us to utilize existing infrastructure and is more environmentally friendly and better for existing industry than continuing to develop on farmland in our Central Valley.

More information can be found at: missingmiddlehousing.com

While these thoughts and opinions are entirely my own, in an effort to remain fully transparent, I should note that my father-in-law, Bakersfield City Councilmember Bob Smith, has advocated for making Bakersfield’s regulations more ADU-friendly.

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about Bakersfield. She can be reached at anna@sagebakersfield.com The views expressed here are her own.

Recommended for you

(8) comments


Here is what the CURRENT Bakersfield ordinance reads:

1. The lot upon which the second unit is being proposed must contain an existing single-family dwelling.

2. The floor area of the second unit, if attached to the existing living area, shall not exceed thirty percent of the floor area of the existing dwelling; if detached from the existing living area, shall not exceed one thousand two hundred square feet.

3. The existing dwelling on the lot upon which the second unit is being proposed must be owner occupied.

Currently ADUs must have at least 1 off-street parking space.


I would also like to add that the current ordinance says that either the main residence or the accessory unit must be owner occupied. AB 68 also states this. Why is our City Council so willing to take this out, when there is no state mandate to so, as of yet?


Ms. Smith. I think you are misinterpreting some pieces of the issue. First of all the proposal was simply to have the MAIN building to be owner/landlord occupied. The ADU did not have to be.

Secondly current state law allows some flexibility for city and counties. It is a much better idea to wait to see what comes out of the state votes for AB 68, AB 88 and SB 13 before a decision is made on changing the wording of these ordinances.

It is a little crazy to change the ordinance to allow an accessory dwelling (ADU) to be up to 50% of the square footage of the existing dwelling (previously was 30%). There is no weighing of the size of the actual lot when determining what size the accessory building can be.

Additionally, I am wondering if the City looked at what the Kern County ordinance reads. They require 1 parking space for EVERY bedroom in an accessory unit. If the City will allow a 1200 sq foot ADU ….that ADU could have 3 bedrooms. According to the proposed ordinance change.....they would not even be required to have an off street parking space if it is located within 1/2 mile of transit. That is simply ridiculous! Let's wait to see want the STATE of CA mandates that we must follow before loosening up ordinance requirements. We already allow ADUs. We don't need large ADUs on tiny lots and we MUST require off-street parking commensurate with the size of each proposed ADU.

Masked 2020

transparency is good.....

Councilman faces conflict-of-interest fine

BY THEO DOUGLAS tdouglas@bakersfield.com May 9, 2016 0

Bob Smith Councilmember, Ward 4

Felix Adamo / Californian

Bakersfield City Councilman Bob Smith $3,000 for violating conflict-of-interest rules, it was revealed Monday.

Smith agreed with and did not contest allegations made by the Fair Political Practices Commission’s enforcement division, which the agency board will consider May 19 in Sacramento. The councilman said Monday he has already paid the fine.

Smith was accused of attempting “to use his official position to influence a governmental decision in which he had a financial interest” by addressing the Bakersfield Planning Commission on Dec. 4, 2014, on behalf of a client, the SB/RBLI Land Company LLC.

SB/RBLI had asked the planning commission to approve subdividing 100 acres at the southwest corner of Coffee and Etchart roads into lots for 376 single-family homes.

At the same meeting, the company also asked the commission to approve subdividing 40 acres at the northeast corner of Snow and Quail Creek roads for the construction of 96 single-family homes.

Neighbors of both projects spoke in opposition, questioning whether residents had been properly noticed of the evening’s hearing, whether adequate steps were being taken to deal with the increased traffic each development would bring, and about the smaller lot sizes being proposed on the 100 acres.

Smith, a civil engineer and president of SmithTech USA, said after first being elected he was assured by City Attorney Ginny Gennaro that “they thought it was OK that I continue being in business that way and addressing the Planning Commission.”

“I would never use my position to try to influence. I was just doing what I’ve always done. I’m here to serve the community the best I can and if they perceive that and interpret that as a conflict then I’ll just do business differently,” said Smith, 61.

The councilman was first elected in 2012 to finish an unexpired term.


Zoning like this in new, unbuilt developments, where lot sizes could be required to be extra wide and deep, and everyone would be aware of before they buy - could work. But to allow it in existing neighborhoods would be a great affront to those who have already invested there, and do nothing more than to make Bakersfield resemble the crapholes that SF and LA have made of themselves.


If the city passes an ordinance mandating that only the property owners can occupy such spaces, how will this be enforced? Will police show up in the middle of the night asking for documents? Will everyone on the property be required to submit to DNA tests to prove their relation to the property owner?


We bought a home with an artists studio in backyard. It is a large space, 400 square feet, matches our homes architecture and has a kitchen. It is vacant now but is a nice space for out of town guests or in laws with overnight medical appointments. No prob.

Inconvenient Truth

Another ‘Brilliant’ idea that will hasten the demise of the middle class homeowner.

The well-to-do will simply live in pricey gated neighborhoods with strict CC&R’s which protect their investment, while those who have sunk their life savings into moderate homes in formerly nice neighborhoods will be forced to watch in dismay as Rentiers take over nearby housing stock and lease to ill-behaved tenants with no skin in the game who will destroy the property values.

This is simply a case of ‘Bait & Switch’ for responsible homeowners who relied on the zoning laws to protect the character of their neighborhood and the value of their life’s greatest investment: the family home.

Looks once again like those who played by the rules will get shafted when the rules are changed in the middle of the game.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.