The City of Santa Cruz is probably the most advanced City in the Bay Area in its adoption and promotion of ADUs.  The Accessory Dwelling Unit Development Program is a good starting point.

The purpose of the City of Santa Cruz Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Development Program is to:

  • Implement the development of well-designed ADUs in the City of Santa Cruz;
  • Help minimize the impact of population growth on the community by providing more rental housing in the developed core of the City;
  • Promote infill development to help preserve the surrounding natural greenbelt;
  • Foster the use of public transportation within the City.

An ADU, also known as a “mother-in-law” or “granny” unit, is an additional living unit that has separate kitchen, sleeping, and bathroom facilities, attached or detached from the primary residential unit on a single-family lot. ADUs provide housing opportunities through the use of surplus space either in or adjacent to a single-family dwelling. In most cases they are either a garage conversion or a small backyard cottage or guest-house style structure.

With over 18,000 single family lots in the City of Santa Cruz, construction of ADUs provide an excellent opportunity to increase the amount of affordable rental housing in the community while providing homeowners with a chance to supplement mortgage payments, thus making their own housing more affordable. At the present time, Santa Cruz is one of the least affordable cities in the United States in terms of housing. Statistics show that only 6.9% of Santa Cruz residents can easily afford to buy a median-priced home.

The ADU Development Program is designed to encourage development of small-scale neighborhood compatible housing and to discourage the proliferation of poorly-constructed illegal ADUs. At the same time, construction of ADUs promotes infill development and sustainable land use patterns, resulting in transportation patterns which in turn reduce pollution.

The City’s ADU ordinance regulates the development of ADUs. Revisions to this ordinance were adopted in June 2003 reflecting provisions of California Assembly Bill 1866. The revisions allow for, in some cases, a simpler and shorter ADU permitting process as well as some ADU development incentives.

In Santa Cruz, ADUs are allowed only on residentially zoned lots of 5,000 sq.ft. or greater, and must meet setback, height and parking requirements. Two-story ADUs located within a rear yard setback or any ADU that does not meet applicable zoning standards require a public hearing and Administrative Use permit.

The ADU Development Program assists homeowners considering building an ADU on their property.  Included in the program are:

An ADU Plan Sets Book containing seven ADU prototype concepts designed by local and regional architects;

  • An ADU Manual containing a step-by-step guide on how to plan, design and obtain permits for an ADU;

Santa Cruz Housing and Community Development