In documents prepared by City Hall, and delivered to The Tattler by persons concerned about the destructive effects of unchecked development, it appears that those who advocate radically increased housing density in Sierra Madre have suffered a significant defeat. And in what looks to be a final stand for the last remnants of the old "No On V" coalition, this event could very well signal yet another battle in the struggle to save this town from the kinds of generic redevelopment that have scarred so many similar cities in the San Gabriel Valley.
This report, entitled the Sierra Madre 2008-2014 Housing Element, which was prepared for the City Council by the Planning Commission and revealed during a study session held on Nov. 13, 2008, details many of the outside pressures being placed upon Sierra Madre to allow the rezoning necessary to accommodate condominium complexes and other forms of high density housing.
The main source of outside pressure is Sacramento. Apparently cities throughout California are required to come up with a "Housing Element" that would enable certain forms of high density redevelopmen
t. Towns refusing to do so would face possible loss of grants and funding, fines, and other forms of punitive coercion.
The original reason for all of this was the creation of low income housing in towns where costs of single family homes had increased markedly. However, over the years, the building trades lobbies in Sacramento worked hard to dramatically warp this egalitarian concept. And the success of those efforts was evident in our SCAG (Southern California Area Governments) prepared 2006 RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) number. Only 58 of the 138 units would have been very low and low income. More profitable higher ticket housing "units" made up the lion's share of the quota.
Sadly, and as is the case with most attempts by big government to centrally impose what seemed like a groovy idea at the time, the impetus behind these "housing assessments" became less about the needs of low income people and a whole lot more about helping redevelopers make a lot of money. Ironically SCAG, the de facto appendage of the building trades lobbies that cooked up our 2006 RHNA ("reena') number included as past members such elected Sierra Madre officials as Bart Doyle, Enid Joffe, and John Buchanan. Current City Councilman Joe Mosca is not only an ongoing member of SCAG, but also graces the panel responsible for Sierra Madre's highly dubious 2006 RHNA number.
Another source for concern on the non-compliance front would be, of course, lawsuits. Housing Advocacy Groups and Disgruntled Developers (or, more likely, a combination of the two), being the likeliest sources for these lawsuits. Also listed among the consequences for non-compliance is the possibility of towns losing their local land use authority, along with a moratorium on building permits, and court imposed fines for undue delay.
So that is a summary of the kinds of forces we are up against. So how did the City of Sierra Madre manage to nearly halve its RHNA number? Well, apparently the regional uber-bureaucrats didn't take a couple of things into account when they did their book cooking. With the miscalculations now corrected, here's a summary of how our numbers break down by income levels today:
Very Low: 2006 RHNA # 36 , 2006-08 permits 10, new RHNA # 26
Low: 2006 RHNA # 22, 2006-08 permits 36, new RHNA # -14
Moderate: 2006 RHNA # 24, 2006-08 permits 14, new RHNA # 10
High: 2006 RHNA # 56, 2006-08 permits 20, new RHNA # 36
Totals: 2006 RHNA # 138. Now reduced to 72.
Incrementally, and very quietly, Sierra Madre has been alleviating some the Sacramento imposed pressures for new housing. Rather than seizing existing homes for the large condominiums and high density redevelopment most people here do not want, renovations and individual new home building have pared down much of that 138 number imposed by SCAG in 2006.
And what of the remaining 72 "unit" allotment? There are a couple of ways of dealing with that as well. Sierra Madre can continue to fight, hoping to reduce it even further. And I am happy to report various appeals are under way. And by readjusting the usage of existing buildings, including those owned by the city, and using "Granny housing" which would qualify as low income housing, plus other creative stratagems, this bullet can be dodged while at the same time doing some actual good for the community.
So that's some pretty rockin' news, right? No new radical redevelopment projects will be required to satisfy our so-called housing debt to the state. Existing properties won't have to be designated for redevelopment, and will remain safe from being seized under eminent domain and razed to make room for undesirable high density housing.
But, of course, not everyone here is happy. And a rather bizarre strategy has emerged to fight these positive developments. Would you believe that it has something to do with certain as yet undesignated "historic" structures in town? More about this in a future column.