And while in the handout provided to the meeting attendees a discussion on this matter does occupy a couple of pages, none of that came to light during Karen's edifying PowerPoint presentation. Which, given the possible impact such news might have on a community that values its quality of life and the safety of its streets, seems as if it was almost by design.
When you consider that Sierra Madre doesn't have a homeless problem, or much of a "homeless community" as it were, would that mean we should be required to plan for the building of homeless accommodations for people who would then migrate here to live in them? I mean, if someone is homeless, how exactly do you establish that the person asking for "transitional housing" actually is from Sierra Madre? The last known location of their shopping cart? Since one of the big themes of the evening was "preserving the character of our community," it seems like a rather odd thing to try and wallpaper over.
The law created by Sacramento that is having this unfortunate effect here in Sierra Madre is known as SB 2. An appropriate government website describes the bill thusly:
This bill requires cities and counties to identify specific sites with by-right zoning to accommodate the community's need for homeless shelters, requires cities and counties to identify zones where special needs facilities and transitional housing are permitted either by right or with a conditional use permit, and prohibits a city or county from disapproving applications for shelters and special needs facilities unless specified findings are made.
Now Karen, in her apparent attempt to elide consideration of this matter from her presentation, did use some of this obfuscational state terminology ("support housing") to describe the SB 2 effect on our Housing Element problems. And it was only after her spiel was over and the assembled officials were allowed to ask questions was the elephant actually brought out into the open. Which is what happened when Councilmember MaryAnn MacGillivray starting using the term "homeless" to describe those who would seek relief in "transitional housing."
And it got even weirder. Once having been forced to use plain English to describe what this housing actually is, Karen then fell back to discussing how only five or so people in Sierra Madre have been identified as being homeless. Which she claimed meant that any neighborhood we might zone for homeless housing would never actually see any of it. There just being no need for such a thing in a town with such a minuscule number of homeless people.
To which Kevin Paschall, in one of the few moments of clarity to make its way into this discussion, said: "If we allow for homeless facilities, they will come."
It must be remembered this demand that we accommodate planning for housing homeless people is state imposed. Just like SB 375, just like AB 32. But that said, I do not sense any burning commitment to stand up to this troublesome imposition from our current City Council, no matter how potentially detrimental to the citizens of Sierra Madre. One of the new City Councilmembers had absolutely nothing to say on this matter, while the other was busy keeping all abreast of developments in the Lakers game. And Mayor Mosca, of course, couldn't seem to talk about "following the law" enough. It seems that in his mind our City government is nothing more than a paper processing operation for Sacramento.
We all know that if we zone for such housing on East Montecito (the neighborhood designated for the homeless, by the way) and no such things are built, there are plenty of litigious homeless advocacy groups in Los Angeles County who will happily inquire as to why that is. Just as low income housing advocates use state law to sue us if we don't accommodate for their needs, advocates for the homeless will do the same. And if you then throw in a couple of government dollars for the happy "stakeholders" there willing to take in homeless people? Well, those 5 lonely persons would suddenly find their numbers in Sierra Madre growing exponentially.
Of course, this would increase foot traffic downtown. Which would hopefully please the Chamber of Commerce. Certainly attendance at their Kersting Court musical presentations would improve.
Some talk was had about the building of a 16 unit low/very low income structure on City owned property on Highland Avenue. Kevin Paschall expressed his misgivings about building such a thing right next door to a public elementary school. Hopefully this will resonate with the other members of the Planning Commission as well. Once again SCAG's imposed RHNA numbers could be putting Sierra Madre's residents at some risk. In this particular case the most vulnerable among us. As if public education in this town isn't under enough stress already.
There was also a long convoluted discussion about granny flats, which made me feel both nostalgic and a little sad. 26 units are all that is left out of the RHNA numbers SCAG stuck us with years ago. Numbers based on their slap happy predictions of a California population boom that never quite materialized. Yet here we are fighting to pare our old RHNA number down by six through granting a kind of amnesty to secondary houses.
The point here being that when you compare what we're dealing with now to what is coming once CARB dictates its RHNA demands to SCAG, these really are the good old days. Those SB 375 driven numbers will far surpass anything we're working on today. And the 80% of the City Council that doesn't give a damn about Sierra Madre remaining a sustainable low-density community knows this.
Which is why they were as decorous and accommodating as they were on the granny flats question. This is all some very small potatoes, and they know that in a couple of years Sacramento will deliver everything they've ever wanted, and then some. Sky high housing mandates brought right to their doors like pizza. Could the renaissance of the Downtown Specific Plan be far behind?