California Mandating Objective Design Standards

California has adopted legislation requiring cities to approve certain housing proposals through “over-the-counter,” processes based on objective standards. This is being done in the hopes that cities like San Carlos CA will create quicker, more accessible pathways to build housing. These design standards should provide clear expectations for the types of designs and other building requirements expected to be approved in a given city.

While each city may create its own design standards, having clearly defined building design criteria will enable builders to generate designs they know will be approved by the city from the start. For too long, builders and homeowners would submit plans to some cities and wait months for approval only to find out that they were rejected. Then after redesigning the plans, they’d wait several more months for approval again. Often, the reasons for rejecting the building plans were subjective; not based on code violations or structural problems, but someone’s opinion of poor aesthetics.

With a proposed objective design criterion, approval could be through a staff-level administrative process without public review or hearing. This means no longer having some neighbors or public officials complain that they don’t “like” the design.

California defines objective standards as those that “involve no personal or subjective judgment by a public official and are uniformly verifiable by reference to an external and uniform benchmark or criterion available and knowable by both the development applicant and public official prior to submittal.”

Design Standards

Subjective vs Objective Standards

As explained by the City of San Carlos CA: Subjective standards require interpretation by city staff or discretionary boards. For example, a requirement for a 40 square-foot front entryway is objective, while a requirement for a “welcoming front entry” is subject to interpretation. An objective standard like “building exteriors shall utilize at least two different colors” could replace a current subjective requirement such as “every building shall have complementary colors which demonstrate a harmonious relationship.”

City of San Carlos CA is Drafting Objective Standards

So, the City of San Carlos CA is looking to get input from the community regarding this Objective Design Standards mandate. It’s looking for input to help shape design guidelines for future residential development. Click Here to find out how you can get involved in shaping these new standards. The goal is to build off of existing guidelines plus the community input resulting in clear language and graphic illustrations for developments to follow.

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