Berkeley City Council limits ADUs to 1 per lot in Berkeley Hills

Photo of Berkeley city hall
Eran Kohen Behar/Staff
At its Tuesday meeting, Berkeley City Council passed ordinances to regulate accessory and junior accessory dwelling units in the Berkeley Hills.

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Berkeley City Council passed two ordinances at its regular meeting Tuesday that limit accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, and junior accessory dwelling unit, or JADU, development in the very high fire hazard zone of the Berkeley Hills and provide development standards for ADUs in these areas.

The first ordinance, proposed by Councilmembers Susan Wengraf and Sophie Hahn, whose two districts cover the majority of the fire hazard areas, limits properties in the very high fire risk zone of the Berkeley Hills to a single ADU or JADU per lot. The second ordinance, also proposed by Wengraf and Hahn, provides specific development standards for those ADUs in the hills.

During its Oct. 26 meeting, City Council had asked that staff prepare two separate ordinances, a local ADU ordinance and an ordinance to specifically address public safety in the hillside overlay. The council unanimously approved the local ordinance last week and in this week’s meeting considered the public safety ordinance.

“I want to make sure when we’re making decisions about where people live and how we grow that we’re balancing the need to grow with also protecting and preserving the life and safety of people in our community,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín at the meeting.

Though much of the focus in the meeting was on the ADU and JADU limitations, the proposal also included development standards for ADUs in the hills, such as the prohibition of rooftop decks, balconies and projections into setbacks.

During public comment, members of the public opposing the proposed ordinance pointed to alternative fire mitigation measures such as red curbing and vegetation management.

Other members of the public expressed concern over the public safety implications of allowing more than one ADU per parcel.

“Adding density to the Berkeley Hills makes no sense from a housing or wildfire perspective,” said Nancy Rader, commissioner at the Berkeley Disaster and Fire Safety Commission, during public comment.

Wengraf noted the limited routes for evacuation of the Berkeley Hills in case of an emergency. Wengraf showed video footage of the evacuation of the Berkeley Hills during the 1991 Oakland Tunnel fire, which killed 25 people.

Wengraf said the evacuation situation in the Berkeley Hills is “critical.” She noted that there is only one main evacuation route out of the hills using Marin Avenue. 

After nearly seven hours in session, the meeting ended with Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani proposing a substitute motion at around 12:30 a.m.

While the substitute motion initially passed, Councilmember Ben Bartlett admitted he had voted on the wrong motion. The item was reconsidered and ultimately did not pass.

The main ADU ordinance was finally voted on and passed.

Contact Alexander Wohl at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @dc_arwohl.