Malibu is refusing to abide by California’s new housing laws, and one family is suffering as a result

October 07, 2021 | By BRITTANY HUNTER

For the entirety of Elizabeth Riddick’s life, her mother Renee has been her rock. Whether she was supporting Elizabeth through her divorce or helping her purchase a home in Malibu, California, Renee has been there for her daughter through thick and thin.

When Renee, now 82, began to develop severe health issues, Elizabeth sprang into action rearranging her life to be there for her mother, just as her mother had always been there for her.

Driving her mother to doctors’ appointments and the pharmacy was time-consuming, and while she was happy to do it, Elizabeth still had a job and a family to look after. It became clear that moving Renee, along with her dog, into the family home would be convenient for both parties. There was only one problem: now remarried with three children and two dogs of her own, Elizabeth had a full house. Bringing Renee and her pup into the home was not an ideal solution. Not to mention, moving in would rob Renee of her privacy and the sense of personal dignity that are often taken away from people as they age and become less able to care for themselves.

The family needed a solution that would allow Renee to reside a hair’s breadth away without compromising her comfort and quality of life.

While searching for an answer, Elizabeth and her husband began mulling over the possibility of building an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), more commonly known as a granny flat or a mother-in-law apartment, on their existing property.

With an unprecedented housing shortage under way, California recently relaxed its outdated ADU laws, making it easier for homeowners like the Riddicks to build and create new, affordable housing options across the state.

Building an ADU was a no-brainer for the Riddicks.

After everything Renee had done for her over the years, Elizabeth was elated to have the opportunity to provide her mother with a comfortable home to call her own. And with her health struggles, Renee needed this security now more than ever.

The family complied with every rule required of them; they spoke to contractors and city officials and applied for all the applicable permits. With the Department of Public Works and city’s geotechnical staff’s blessing, they set their plan into motion. Everything should have been on track, but instead of heralding the opportunity to build new housing, the City of Malibu denied the family the permits they needed to start construction.

Malibu has an infamous reputation for routinely using loopholes to deny ADU permits. Infected with a “not in my backyard” sentiment, city officials have made weak excuses for opposing ADUs, often saying new dwellings will ruin a neighborhood’s character. Meanwhile, the state remains desperate for new housing.

In the Riddicks’ case, it was argued that the proposed project was technically a “guest house,” which under the city’s building code is subject to stricter regulations than ADUs.

Under this claim, the city had more authority to bypass the new state laws. As a result, they have routinely denied the Riddicks, and others, the permits they need to build.

Frustrated as Elizabeth was, she was not yet ready to throw in the towel. The family spent nearly $40,000 to assure that everything was up to snuff so they could reapply for the permit, including soil tests and working with the fire department, but they heard nothing from the city regarding the approval for their plan.

State law mandates cities to review and approve ADUs within 60 days. But it took the planning commission 11 months to let the Riddicks know their request for a permit was denied.

To say this was a bureaucratic nightmare would be an understatement. The lengths the city has been willing to go to in impeding development seemed almost too ridiculous to believe, especially with a major housing shortage under way.

But Elizabeth is a fighter, an attribute for which she credits her mother.

“I have no intention of stopping, none. I guess, from what I’ve learned from her, you keep fighting, you don’t stop. You’re not going to get anywhere by giving up. So for this particular issue, I’m not giving up.”

Elizabeth pressed forward. But there is only so much time in the day, and with both she and her husband working full time and raising a family, they didn’t have the luxury of dedicating every second of their lives to this cause.

The family isn’t asking for much. All they want is the right to productively use their own property. Property rights are at the heart of all other rights. When an individual’s property rights are secure, their other rights are more easily guarded.

But when busybody officials spend their time fighting tooth and nail to suspend these rights, individual liberty as a whole is threatened.  Receiving the approval to do what the Constitution and state law already allow them to do has been a headache they never imagined.

The Riddicks realized they couldn’t fight the city on their own. They scoured the internet for attorneys to represent them. That’s when they found Pacific Legal Foundation.

Upon discovering PLF’s work, Elizabeth said she felt like “the cavalry was here.”

“I don’t believe that that’s what our country is supposed to be about, government taking control of everybody’s property and telling you what you can and can’t do in your backyard, especially when it’s for the benefit of our community as a whole.”

She continued, “I felt a huge sense of relief that finally somebody is listening and somebody understands.” With PLF by her side, her family’s fight continues.

Throughout the ordeal, it became blatantly obvious that city officials lack understanding for the family’s plight. The city has claimed that there is no need for Renee to have her own space, asserting that the Riddicks could rearrange their house to accommodate her needs. They seem to think having six people and three dogs squished into one home is not their problem.

As for Renee, when she spoke of her daughter’s sacrifice, she was holding back tears. “It’s a little hard for me to talk about it,” she explains. “She has taken care of me. It breaks my heart to see it’s so difficult.”

But she still has hope for this case.

“I wanted to take my hat off to PLF for coming to the rescue. And I’m really appreciative. Greatly appreciative.”

Unfortunately, the City Council denied the Riddicks’ appeal on August 19. Still, Elizabeth remains resolved in her conviction to continue the fight, and she won’t be entering this battle alone. Pacific Legal Foundation is working to assist the Riddick family with the submission of updated ADU Plans that the city is bound by law to approve within 60 days. If the city fails to sign off on the project within that time frame, the Riddicks can appeal to state court to compel approval.