Council Adopts ADU Ordinances

By Julie BUTCHER

Mayor Ara Najarian opened what turned out to be a long Glendale City Council meeting on Tuesday night by explaining why the council is meeting in a different room rather than in council chambers.

“We will not hold a meeting at a location where every single person is not accommodated,” he said explaining that the elevator to the second floor in city hall is inoperable pending repair.

Then the mayor issued a special surprise commendation honoring Glendale resident Richy Leis and Comic Cure for their work supporting local non-profits, notably Glendale Arts. Comic Cure educates and supports young comics, including offering beginner stand-up comedy classes.

By unanimous vote, the council voted to fix a scheduling glitch that had been caused in aligning election dates between the city and the state as local election dates change to March in 2020. To align with the state primary rules, the council voted to change the deadline for Glendale council candidates to file from Dec. 3 to Dec. 6. The decision was retroactive. Also by a unanimous vote, and with no public debate or discussion, the council voted to eliminate regulations previously in place governing the safe operations of taxis, including annual safety inspections.

The issues regarding locally controlling the building and converting of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) were vigorously deliberated at last week’s meeting. This week the council voted without comment to adopt the ordinance. Responding to public criticism, Councilmember Frank Quintero replied, “It is a state law. We’re trying to comply with state law that’s already passed.”

Also of recent historic controversy, the council revisited – and ultimately adopted – ordinances drafted to regulate vacation rentals and short-term home-sharing. The set of ordinances entirely bans vacation rentals. These are rentals in which the entire property is rented while the property owner is not present. In September, the council softened its position on an annual 180-day cap for home-sharing; those are short-term rentals when the owner remains substantively on the premises. The final measure now allows for unlimited home-sharing, year-round, without restriction. It requires the payment of the local transient occupancy tax (ToT) customarily paid by hotels.

According to city staff, Airbnb communicated its disbelief that the limits proposed would achieve the intended goal of preserving housing stock and the quality of life, and questioned the city’s ability to effectively enforce the new rules. Instead, it proffered a “pathway” for the legalization of vacation rentals.

Hosts with whom the city engaged with oppose the banning of vacation rentals while supporting rules to regulate noise, trash, parking and other issues. They urged further study. Homeowners organized into the Glendale Homeowners Coordinating Council (GHCC) reiterated their original support of the ordinance to ban vacation rentals and allow home-sharing.

Glendale resident and Airbnb host Steve Brown explained how important the ability to offer units in his multi-family property for short-term rentals has been to him.

“I’ve been able to replace the roof, all the windows in all the units, without raising the rent on my tenants,” Brown said. He added that he contributed free housing to those affected by recent California fires.

“There’s a system of rating,” Brown told the council. “We rate our guests and they rate us.”

Mayor Najarian commended Airbnb for its willingness to engage and “address the issues our city and other cities” have raised, such as tax collection and enforcement. The problem, Najarian noted, is that many of the homes available for short-term rental are not covered by Airbnb. He noted a 33% increase in these rentals since last year.

“I don’t want to call it an explosion, but I would call that a very healthy growth rate,” he said.

“Where are the other operators?” he asked. “Is there anyone here from HomeAway or VRBO? Craigslist is the one that scares me the most.”

Najarian explained that he had deemed the 180-day annual cap on home-sharing appropriate but had changed his thinking. However, he continued, the housing affordability crisis in Glendale is real and the proliferation of off-market short-term rentals adds to the problem.

“These are great people and they may not cause any trouble, but they are freezing out others who are looking to make Glendale their home, who want to send their kids to Glendale schools,” Najarian said. “I’m against apartments being used for Airbnb – it diminishes the housing stock, whether it’s by five or 10 or 100, and that’s making our housing affordability crisis worse.”

Next, the council approved a 25-year agreement to purchase a 12.5% share of the Eland 1 solar and battery project for 25 megawatts (MW) of solar energy and up to 18.75 MWh of battery storage. The deal, known as a Power Sales Agreement (PSA), is with the Southern California Public Power Authority (SCPPA) [created in 1980 for the purpose of providing joint planning, financing, construction, and operation of transmission and generation projects, composed of 11 municipal utilities and one irrigation district] for a “share of the renewable solar energy, battery energy storage products and associated environmental attributes from the Eland 1 Solar and Storage Center in Kern County.”

Expected online in 2023, the agreement helps boost the percentage of renewable energy in Glendale’s portfolio by 9%, providing Glendale with 50 MWh (or 75 MWh if an increased battery option is exercised) of the energy to mitigate the intermittence of solar generation during the day and providing the ability to shift generation toward evening peaks.

With no up-front cost to the city, the extremely competitive prices are fixed for the 25-year term at $32.97 per MWh ($19.97/MW for solar energy and $13.00/MWh for the Battery Energy Storage System (BESS).

“This is a great project for us. It’s the largest of this type of project anywhere in the U.S.,” said Glendale Water and Power (GWP) general manager Steve Zurn. “More importantly, it is one of the cheapest, and most economical, sources of energy. Ours is a small but very significant share – the primary participant is the City of Los Angeles. At $33 per megawatt this is one of the least expensive sources of power in our portfolio – the only source cheaper is Hoover (Dam). Five or six years ago, this would have cost three times as much.”

The 9% improvement increases the percentage of Glendale’s renewable energy from 36% to 45%.

Najarian recounted a recent press conference with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“This could not happen without the cooperation of LA. Sometimes our relationship is contentious, but I want to be sure they know that we appreciate being the only other city in this agreement. It’s great for our ratepayers; it’s great for our greenhouse gas-reduction efforts.”

Zurn responded to questions and assured the councilmembers that the technology will continue to improve, that as parts wear out, for instance, they will be replaced with more environmentally sound, updated technology; the goal, he concluded, is to “capture the sun and give it to us as a clean, renewable energy.”

“This is a milestone,” Councilmember Frank Quintero agreed, then mused, “Of all the numerous ways of generating power for the city, the cheapest source is from the Hoover Dam, built, what? 60 years ago?” [The Hoover Dam was constructed between 1931 and 1936].

City finance director Michele Flynn shared audit information and updated financial reports – Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs). While the city is on sound financial footing, future pension obligations are viewed as threatening. The council approved fund transfers of $5 million to a pension fund and $1 million for an electric bus pilot program.

Finally, the council heard and approved a series of changes and adjustments to local transit routes.

“We heard from our riders,” a consultant reported. “They want more frequent service, later service, and better connections to get them where they need to go.”

By combining service “up and down” Central and Brand onto Central, “we can run 10-minute service most of the day. Frequency is the best way to build ridership.”

A new addition, Route 8, will connect the Glendale Transit Center (CTC) with Glendale Community College and a new crosstown line will focus on added service, also running at 10-minute increments. To increase evening service, two pilots will test evening bus service, particularly aimed at helping GCC night students get home after classes, and on weekends to support Glendale’s nightlife and entertainment. The pilot buses will run until 10:15 p.m. and the new buses will be outfitted with energy efficient “near zero” engines.