CALIFORNIA CITY -- The California City city council identified potential empty residential tracts for future construction of “tiny homes” or small homes when it approved a first reading of a tiny homes ordinance.
The public hearing was continued from a previous council meeting due in part to time constraints from the previous meeting. The council voted 3-2 to approve the ordinance, with Mayor Pro Tem Don Parris and Councilmember Bill Smith dissenting.
The ordinance still requires a second vote at an upcoming council meeting to go into effect.
The tracts identified include Tract 2898, west of Mitchell Blvd. near the airport; Tract 2528, located near Mitchell just north of Mendiburu Blvd.; Tract 3198, a Second Community area south of Silver Saddle Ranch.; Tracts 2223, 2404 and 2630 on the southeast portion of town; Tract 3151 on Randsburg Mojave Road near a mobile home park; and 2812, north of Mendiburu, if existing homes on that tract aren’t impacted.
California City’s current municipal law limits the construction of single-family homes to a minimum of 1,200 square feet. According to a draft resolution, a tiny home would be between 200 and 500 square feet, while a small home would max out at 1,200 square feet.
The lots of land identified for tiny homes include tracts near Borax Bill OHV Park and the now-closed Silver Saddle Ranch and Resort, potential overlay zones in the southeast (in an area defined by Sequoia Blvd, Forest Blvd. and California City Blvd) and northeast, including the Legends community and a nearby mobile home park.
“We think this is a great opportunity for our city,” said Public Works Director Jose Barragan.
The push to have tiny homes introduced into the city has been championed by some locals including DJ Twohig, in past as a means to broaden Cal City’s offerings and make use of land otherwise seen as too difficult to develop for traditional subdivisions.
Barragan stressed some proposed changes supplied by Twohig to a staff-prepared ordinance don’t support “infill development,” or developing underused or vacant tracts in already-developed urban areas.
“I think that (infill) is the wrong move for our city,” Barragan said. “What I see a big use for tiny homes is to put them in places that wherein different circumstances, it would be almost impossible to build.” Those areas might be defined as a lack of utility service to that area or other factors.
Barragan noted lots in those tracts could instantly add value to that type of land, adding the commodity isn’t something the city lacks.
Barragan added it could motivate people to pay parcel taxes, which he said had a 23% default rate in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
Councilmember Ron Smith said the idea of building near developed areas of the city could lead people to be confused by state mandates to allow construction of accessory development homes, or in-law units, on properties with existing homes.
Smith asked instead why not focus more on “Second Community” lots, referring to approximately 109 square miles of undeveloped property in the city limits.
“I would love to see more Second Community lots and give those folks hope that they can do something with that land,” he said. Smith added that he had heard concerns about building around Borax Bill, home to major OHV activity, and two lots on the north end of town.
“My hope was to start this small so that people aren’t afraid of ‘tiny homes,’” Smith said. He said upon looking up the phrase online, he saw images from Portland depicting structures he described as shoddy. Other searches brought up elaborate designs.
“This ordinance should be very restrictive if people are going to build homes in town so that it would be nice that our citizens wouldn’t have to be scared of these,” Smith said.
He later said that some compromise will be needed, but added if done properly “it could really be some great PR for our community.”
Mayor Pro Tem Don Parris said he could not justify placing tiny homes “on our main boulevard going into our town airport when we have Second Community to consider.” He agreed with Ron Smith on starting small and “seeing what it does before we put it on our main drag.”
Barragan said the thought process for the area near the airport was that it was close to cannabis growing areas; this would allow marijuana cultivators to build employee housing and allow the city to bring in more water and sewer lines.
Councilmember Bill Smith said some residents who own Second Community lots might not want to build smaller homes and might have concerns about people “building shanties.”
“Why do we want to allow people to put up little shacks? To me that sounds like the Homestead Act, putting up a bunch of two-by-fours and covering it,” Smith said. “To me, 200 square feet is a waste. It doesn’t make for a proper garage, much less a home.”
Mayor Chuck McGuire said building standards would be implemented in conjunction with the ordinance.
Barragan said if there are areas that already have standard single-family residents, the city could eliminate the option to allow tiny home construction in that subdivision. He added there “are a lot of tools to make this work correctly but will take a lot of work.”
Barragan later said any homes built off the grid would likely cost more due to a solar grid and battery backup and water storage tanks.
“I don’t want to give the concept that homes off the grid will be cheap -- they’re not,” Barragan said.
Parris asked why the city was allowing Twohig, “developer with a substantial interest in tiny homes” to author or redline an ordinance when it has its own city attorney for that purpose. He added he would not vote for any item.
McGuire countered that city staff had a lot of mutual development in the ordinance, including its attorney and Planning Director Shawn Monk.
“Everybody came together to get this thing done because it’s been sitting in limbo for a long time,” McGuire said. “DJ said he had two lots in a couple of these and nothing else. He made that public record.”
City Attorney Christian L. Bettenhausen noted the ordinance had significant revisions after talking with city staff.
During public comment, Twohig noted that eliminating any tracks on the north side of the city from the ordinance would promptly discourage future development. He noted the lots either lack sewer and power or water.
"If there is no home built, there you’ll never get [ Subdivision Deferred Improvement] funds,” referring to a funding mechanism in the city’s municipal code. “If you want to remove those lots, go ahead, you’re telling the world a home will never be built.” He added by discluding one lot, already zoned for residential, would show the city prefers it “to be a dead tract.”
Twohig also noted any argument tiny homes could devalue larger homes made no sense, as they would cost more per square foot to build.
Hal Aaron of Aaron said while he had nothing against tiny homes, they had no place in his subdivisions, going as far as to place restrictions on building requirements. He said the minimum ranges from 1,200 to 1,500 square feet.
“Tiny homes do have a place, though, including vacation homes or for employee homes like the cannabis industry, but not in a planned division with a normal stick-built house,” Aaron said. “The normal couple will not want to live in a tiny home.”
Shawn Monk, the planning director, reiterated that tiny homes would be great for seasonal workers coming in to wok at the cannabis farms. Identified tracts in the southeast part of town would be ideal for “smaller homes” and for families or individuals with ties to Edwards Air Force Base.
He said the planning department has received interest about the purchase of lots in the tract west of Mitchell Boulevard and for lots adjacent to a mobile home park on the west end of town.
Monk added the Silver Saddle area wouldn’t be ideal as it might contribute to “sprawl,” something he said the planning department isn’t supposed to advocate. Any first development would be used as a test case, he added.
“We’re not against tiny homes at all, we just want a first development to be successful,” Monk said.
When asked about plumbing for areas without utilities, Monk said homes would rely on septic tanks. Areas without a water line would rely on water tanks to flush toilets.
McGuire said the water tank concept “gave him heartburn” because of the uncertainty of checking them in the case of a fire emergency.
When it came to refining the lots, Councilmember Ron Smith said selecting something would be the best step, and the council could add more at a later date. He added no one “should have heartburn” for building near Silver Saddle.
“It's not Timbuktu but you can see Timbuktu from there,” he said.
On approval, Councilmember Nick Lessenevich asked that the ordinance be revisited at a later time to provide more emphasis on Second Community tracts. He added that the cost of traditional home construction has become cost-prohibitive inside city limits.
“This will bring a different type of people here, from the military, the potential for income and a different type of rental to the city,” Lessenevich said. “It’s not an activity that is happening now with the cost of construction of a standard 1,200 square foot home and above.”