Menlo Park sets granny unit fees

Although much higher estimates of $20,000 were bandied about during the Menlo Park Planning Commission's discussions of how much fees for secondary, aka "granny," units cost, once the city staff delved into the data, they discovered the average was closer to $7,500.

During its fee review on May 13, the City Council voted 4-1, with Peter Ohtaki dissenting, to leave fees at that level, as recommended by the staff, rather than reducing them.

Development Services Manager Justin Murphy told the council that $7,500 is in line with what residents of other nearby communities pay for secondary units.

The city assesses approximately $5,000 for a 500-square-foot unit, with the remaining $2,500 going toward fees charged by outside agencies such as the fire and water districts, he said. This is generally in line with costs in Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, San Bruno and other Peninsula cities, according to the staff report. East Palo Alto charges more $11,000 to $18,000.

"If we over-encourage" construction of granny units, the impacts on neighborhoods and infrastructure might be felt faster than expected, Mayor Ray Mueller said, while explaining his resistance to lowering the fees. Since staff time must be paid for, he said, that would equate to using taxpayers who can't build secondary units to subsidize those who can build them.

The question arose as to whether those building the units could qualify for assistance from Menlo Park's below-market-rate fund. City Attorney Bill McClure explained that technically it was possible, although the property owners would have to sign a commitment to restrict the unit to low-income levels for 55 years.

Councilwoman Kirsten Keith noted that she supported 100 percent cost recovery for staff time spent reviewing plans and issuing permits for granny units, but asked if less time might be spent overseeing a 500-square-foot unit as opposed to a 5,000-square-foot house, thereby justifying a lower administrative fee. The staff responded that may be feasible but would first have to be researched.

Holding out for reducing the fees, Councilman Peter Ohtaki argued that reducing the permitting costs would encourage the owners of secondary units built before the city legalized them to make safety upgrades and bring the units into compliance. "I think that is, in my opinion, worth doing," he said.

The mayor, who had earlier noted that housing advocates were pointing out that secondary units would rent for market rates -- currently around $2,000 -- and thereby not contribute to the supply of affordable housing, commented that he thought people were more likely to build a new unit instead of paying to bring an illegal one into compliance. "They're already enjoying the one without a permit," Mr. Mueller said.

The council also approved a new $100 fee to register granny units for property owners that plan to rent out both the main dwelling and the secondary unit, with a $50 annual fee for up to four more years after the initial registration.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 22, 2014 at 10:09 am

Somehow Portland, OR was able to waive their fees for granny units to encourage them. Menlo Park chose to raise their fees which indicates they don't want these units. Even if the fee is "only" $7500 that is a huge sum on top of architect fees and construction costs. I doubt there will be many units built and even fewer illegal units will come forward.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 23, 2014 at 9:58 am

I spoke to the County Tax Assessor's office yesterday. Adding a second unit would boost property taxes by more than 25%. Interestingly, some of that increase in property taxes goes back to the City of Menlo Park every year, year after year forever.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Food Party! 420
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 1,393 views

What Are Your Gifts that Must Be Shared?
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 516 views


Readers' Choice ballot is here

It’s time to decide what local business is worthy of the title “Almanac Readers' Choice” — and you get to decide! Cast your ballot online. Voting ends May 29th. Stay tuned for the results in the July 19th issue of The Almanac.