Ordinance Would Require Universal Access for All Single-Family Homes



Council on Tuesday night will introduce a Universal Access Ordinance that, if adopted, will make all all single-family units subject to the Universal Access requirements, regardless of whether they require council approval.

According to staff, “The intent of the recommended ordinance, consistent with the requirements that have been applied to projects under existing policy, is to incorporate features that are feasibly and easily included during initial construction of housing.”

Back in 2010, the city held a series of workshops to discuss the issue of accessibility in single-family housing, where a list of accessible features were identified and agreed to as a list of reasonable features that could be provided in the development of new housing.

Staff noted, at that time, in those discussions there was consensus that a tiered approach with some required features might be a more valuable and flexible structure for future development. Staff took the notes from the discussion and collected other information and feedback, including public and developer written communications, in drafting an early version of tiered requirements.

The ordinance now includes nine requirements. (1) Exterior Zero-Step Wider Exterior Walkway to Low Threshold Entry (at least 36” wide, without steps); (2) Low threshold entry at a minimum of one exterior door that is 34” wide or 32” clear opening; (3) Interior path of travel throughout the ground floor; (4) Accessible ground floor half bathroom; (5) Accessible ground floor common room; (6) Electrical outlets for future stair lift or placement of stacked closets to accommodate a future home elevator; (7) accessible electrical panel on the ground floor interior or exterior of the unit; (8) rocket light switches throughout and (9) Single Action Hardware at Accessible Entrance and on Ground Floor.

However, two items that seem to be core principles of universal design are not included.

First an accessible ground floor bathroom. Staff explains, “Adding a shower/bath where one was not originally planned could add $3,000. Other costs associated with the inclusion of a full bathroom on the main floor are a matter of limited square footage and space that would be distributed differently than if the unit only included a half bath/ powder room. A full bath, like a bedroom, is less feasible in higher density units with a small unit footprint/ground floor.”

Second, accessible ground floor bedroom: “In homes that are greater than two thousand square feet, there is often a bedroom on the first floor, so this would not result in any additional cost to those units. However, as the housing unit and parcel decrease, the ability to have a bedroom on the main floor becomes more difficult due to the limited square footage of space. With an accessible common use room that can be adapted or can accommodate a bed short-term, a separate bedroom is not being recommended as a required feature.”

Staff adds, “Based on comments collected from the development community and research by staff, it appears that an exterior path of travel consistent with strict ADA slope requirements, a full bathroom and bedroom downstairs are often infeasible in housing units with a small ground floor, particular units of higher density. Assessing these challenges helped create the list of required features.”

Staff wrote that this formalizes universal design requirements in new housing that would not have to come before council for approval. One of the questions unanswered is how much housing this will really impact in a time when the city has approved the last major housing project in Cannery.

Cannery, which had been subject to criticism by some senior advocates, in the end came up with a compromise that appears to have assuaged some concerns.

Of the single-family homes, 25 percent of them will be single-story houses. Moreover, the developer agreed to universal design in all its homes through its Livable Design Program, including stepless entries, multiple-height work surfaces, wider hallways/stairways, with other features available to add.

Moreover, contrary to the city’s own ordinance, The Cannery will have a bedroom on the first floor in 75 percent of the homes, a feature that Senior Commission Chair Elaine Roberts Musser called “a crucial universal design feature.”

The developer also reportedly promised that all staircases will be reinforced to allow for installation of a chair lift.

Ms. Elaine Roberts Musser in November 2013 wrote that the Davis Senior Citizens Commission unanimously approved the following motion: “The project proposal is generally consistent with the guidelines for housing that serves seniors and persons with disabilities. The proposed livable design program and builder commitment is more than sufficient in meeting the goals of the city’s guidelines for universal access.

“The project’s location, configuration and amenities appropriately meet the city objectives of providing an inclusive multigenerational approach to residential development.”

The question, though, is how many houses would this ordinance impact?

—David M. Greenwald reporting

For full staff report see: Universal Access


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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26 thoughts on “Ordinance Would Require Universal Access for All Single-Family Homes”

        1. Barack Palin

          There will be more subdivisions down the road, but I must admit my first thought is why didn’t they come up with this before they rubber stamped the Cannery.

          And yes, I’d rather they deal with the roads over this and other things like plastic bags, gay marriage, fireplace smoke, drinks in kid’s meals, …….fill in the blank.

        2. Davis Progressive

          true, although it looks like they applied this to a lot of cannery, but not all.  wonder why they suddenly want to enforce it 100% elsewhere but even when they had a chance to revisit things last month, chose not to with the cannery.

        3. hpierce

          I disagree… I believe that the development agreements, in place, provide for the inclusion of being subject to ordinances/codes applied City-wide.  If I am correct, the proposed ordinance would be applicable to Chiles Ranch, and the proposed Villages @ Willowcreek, and perhaps to the ‘work’ live units on Del Rio.  Two cents.

  1. Frankly

    In the never-ending quest for social engineers to rule every step of individual choice, here we go again.

    This is really laughable because I bet the same subset of people that push this and say “great idea!!!” are also the same that say “no new housing development and if there is it needs to be hyper-dense so we don’t build on any valuable farmland in our water-starved, semi-arid-near-desert-condition area.”  And force more stairs to be required.

    Just try to look for a new home that is a 1-story.   And then if you give up, next try to find one with a master bedroom and bathroom on the 1st floor.

    Construction code requirements have grown to the point of comedy.  Davis should also consider that the lack of home turnover in this town, and the reduction in property tax revenue it causes, is due in part to the asinine codes.  I am a prime example.  The overwhelming list of resale permitting work to retrofit into the current code requirements has been the last straw that has caused me to stay put.

    How about this approach instead.  LET INDIVIDUAL CHOICE AND THE MARKET DICTATE!!!!

    For example, I have a single-story home and I am remodeling a master bathroom and will be installing an ADA-compliant shower.  I am doing this in case I live in the home long enough to need that type of shower, but also because it will help with resale if I do end up selling.

    1. Davis Progressive

      the problem is that the market from the past, dictates the supply for the future.  in a population that is rapidly aging, we already have a ton of old homes that do not work for seniors.  we had to spend a huge amount of money on my mother’s house to made it livable for her.  it would have been far cheaper had they done it from the start.

      1. hpierce

        So, would you propose that we should pursue an ordinance that requires retro-fit of existing housing, when put up for sale, so folk like you don’t have to go through that cost?

        In saying that, I support that new housing units, if at all feasible, go toward accessibility.

      2. Frankly

        it would have been far cheaper had they done it from the start.

        Great – it would have been far cheaper for you, but not the original owners that may not want/like those features.

        I guess that is all the justification you need… it would be cheaper for you.

        1. hpierce

          Why wouldn’t folk want/accept those features?  Frankly, I can’t see a reason why accessibility shouldn’t be strongly considered by any builder.  And, implemented, unless there were strong impediments, physical and/or financial.  Just good design.

        2. Frankly

          hpierce – I don’t think you are thinking this through.  It many cases, especially in small places, accessibility requirements will dictate design elements and eliminate features and amenities from the list.

          For example, you will not be able to add that counter or that closet or that cabinet because the pathway would be too narrow for ADA compliance.

          It should be choice not a mandate.

  2. Frankly

    When this office was constructed we were forced to have an ADA-compliant bathroom upstairs.  No elevator exists in the building.  Because of the ADA space requirements, we had to eliminate the idea for an upstairs shower.  We have two ADA bathrooms downstairs.  Figure that one out.

    We were also required to have fixed windows with safety glass on one side of the building.  Figure that one out.

    I put in a 16″ high retaining wall on the patio and had electrical outlets installed for staff to plug in their laptops to work outside when the weather is good.  But the ADA code required the outlets be 18″ high… so the outlets had to be removed because the wall was only 16″ high.  Figure that one out.

    The code says that 40% of your kitchen lighting has to be florescent or LED… not just the bulbs mind you.  You have to rip out your lighting to replace it with CERTIFIED florescent or LED lights because otherwise after the inspector leaves you will just swap out those bulbs with the evil and illegal incandescent.   Figure that one out.

    I could go on and on and on.   The building code is the epitome of human stupidly.  Eventually the inspectors and the contractors just comply, but the list of stupidity just grows and grows and grows.  None of it ever gets reversed.  It gets more and more complicated and more and more expensive to build.

    1. Miwok

      Frankly, you used the S_ word – Stupid

      “For ignorance we have education, for stupidity, nothing”

      My only useful comment to this is if they pass this they need to make it retroactive to every apartment, and home in the area.

      1. Barack Palin

        My only useful comment to this is if they pass this they need to make it retroactive to every apartment, and home in the area.

        Get real, people that already bought their homes and have lived in them for years can in no way afford to now pay for these types of add ons and retro fits after the fact.  You’re talking thousands of dollars, it would kill the real estate market in Davis.  I don’t like the ordinance either, but the only way to make it feasible would be that the requirements would only apply to new housing.

    2. Topcat

      None of it ever gets reversed.  It gets more and more complicated and more and more expensive to build.

      I wanted a back yard shade structure.  I had a contractor from Sacramento lined up to do the work.  I went to the City of Davis to get the permit and they said I would have to have an engineering analysis done because one side attached to the house.  The contractor said he’s been installing these kinds of structures for years in Sacramento and never needed a permit.

      I cancelled the job because it would have been too expensive to do a complete structural analysis without any assurance that the City would approve it.

      Sometimes I think we’ve lost track of common sense in Davis.

      1. Barack Palin

        I know someone in Davis who recently had to have their water heater replaced.  They went to get the permit and were told that they’d have to pay yearly homeowner taxes on the value of the new water heater plus installation.  He said it was just a replacement of a leaking water heater and it wasn’t upping the value of his house and was told it didn’t matter.  That sounds ridiculous to me.  I can understand if someone is getting something added like a new patio trellis or something like that, but to just be replacing something broken and be charged yearly homeowner taxes on it?

        1. hpierce

          Wow… whoever they talked to was ill-informed/lying.  I suggest your ‘friend’ relate that directly to the Chief Building Official (Mahoney), and/or City Manager.  That’s flat-out wrong.

  3. tribeUSA

    How about a compromise; require it on ~50% of houses in new development proposals. The requirement does indeed cramp the design options of new homes; particularly smaller new homes that are less expensive (this requirement would certainly constrain the design options and up the cost). I certainly don’t agree that it should be required for resale of an existing home, or any pre-existing homes and apartments.

    1. hpierce

      I don’t disagree with you, but the ‘more affordable’ homes are the ones that should (at least at the 50% level) be fully accessible, but that’s just me.

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