News & Events


City of San Diego Continues to Expand Zoning Flexibility for Granny Flats

By Procopio Land Use Group Leader Justine Nielsen and Land Use Planner Carey Algaze

As the housing crisis continues to worsen amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic, the City of San Diego is going all-in on accessory dwelling units— also known as granny flats—as a critical component of its housing production program.  The City recently approved one of California’s most progressive ordinances to incentivize and provide more regulatory flexibility for Accessory Dwelling Units (“ADUs”) and Junior Dwelling Units (“JADUs”). The updates were made in part to ensure consistency with state law, but in many instances, provide for more generous opportunities to homeowners and developers to add additional dwelling units on their parcels.

Below are the highlights of the most significant amendments to the City’s code followed by a comparison of State and City provisions.

ADUs on Premises with Multiple Dwelling Units:

  • Allows total ADUs permitted within habitable area of existing multi-dwelling unit structure to be up to 25% of total number of existing dwelling units
  • Allows unlimited number of ADUs within existing portions of multiple dwelling units that are not used as livable space (i.e. storage rooms, garages, attics, etc.) provided compliance with building standards for dwelling units
  • Allows 2 detached ADUs per premises

ADU Bonus for Affordable ADUs:

  • A density bonus of 1 ADU for every deed restricted affordable ADU provided
  • 15-year term, guaranteed through a written agreement, and a deed of trust securing the agreement, entered into by the applicant and the San Diego Housing Commission
  • Made affordable to very low income, low income, or moderate-income households (30% of 50% AMI, 30% of 60 AMI and 30% of 100% AMI for rental units)
  • Units to be constructed onsite
  • No limit on bonus ADUs in Transit Priority Areas
  • One (1) bonus ADU permitted outside of Transit Priority Areas


  • New ADUs must meet front and street side setbacks of the zone, but may encroach to the lot line of the interior and rear lot line


  • No parking required for ADUs or JADUs
  • Where a garage, carport or covered parking structure is demolished in conjunction with the construction of an ADU or JADU or converted into an ADU or JADU, replacement of parking is not required

You can find a comprehensive comparison of California ADU vs San Diego ADU regulations in this accompanying PDF.

Contact Procopio’s Partner and Land Use Practice Group Leader Justine Nielsen for more information or to evaluate a future project for compliance with the ordinance.

* NOTE: Prior to becoming effective, this Ordinance shall be submitted to the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority (SDCRAA) for a consistency determination goes into effect 30 day after finding of consistency or from final passage, whichever Is later. The provisions of this Ordinance inside the Coastal Overlay Zone, which are subject to California Coastal Commission jurisdiction as a City of San Diego Local Coastal Program amendment, shall not take effect until the date the California Coastal Commission unconditionally certifies those provisions as a local coastal program amendment. Coastal Commission provides guidance on ADUs in this memo.


Justine K. Nielsen is a Partner at Prcopio and the leader of its Land Use Practice Group. She represents private entities and other organizations on a variety of land use, planning and entitlement matters throughout all stages of the real estate development process. Her practice consists of land use due diligence, entitlement management and processing, appearing before public entities in connection with development projects, CEQA regulatory compliance matters including preparation and review of environmental documents, and post-approval implementation of entitlements. She has experience with a variety of product types including multi-family residential, mixed-use, life sciences, commercial/retail, hotel, and institutional uses including schools and hospitals. She has expertise in matters related to the Coastal Act, the Subdivision Map Act, CEQA, Density Bonus, historical resource regulations, other related statutes. She also assists clients in reviewing and drafting land use ordinances, permit findings, and similar land use regulatory documents.

Carey L. Algaze is a Land Use Planner with Procopio, working with Procopio attorneys to assist clients with a variety of real estate land use needs. She has experience navigating complicated zoning codes, permitting processes, and entitlements in various jurisdictions across the United States, including land development, entitlements, discretionary approvals, ministerial approvals, building permits, land use planning, due diligence, acquisitions, redevelopment, re-positioning assets, value add, redevelopment, community outreach, urban planning, placemaking, public spaces, urban design, acquisitions, economic and community development, Business Improvement Districts, and due diligence.