(Mod: Last week we covered the results of the so-called "RHNA Appeals Process" to a completely indifferent and apparently inept SCAG. Inept in that the document they eventually produced declaring the inadequacy of our appeal was grammatically strange with half the names of our representatives ludicrously misspelled. Which is good enough for government work, I guess. We were hardly the only city to appeal the RHNA demands of this eminently undemocratic institution. Many others also declared their inability to accommodate the draconian levels of new housing development SCAG is enforcing on behalf of the state and federal governments. All fell on deaf ears. Below is the appeal put together by a Sierra Madre team headed by MaryAnn MacGillivray and John Capoccia. It is an accurate and even frightening depiction of Sierra Madre's situation in the face of SCAG's bizarre demands, particularly on the topic of water. It is doubtful SCAG even bothered to read it. Our condition not being a worthy part of their process.)
As you all know, Sierra Madre has been an active participant in both the CEHD and RHNA subcommittee meetings. We appreciate the effort of SCAG to consider input from each jurisdiction. The City of Sierra Madre cooperated in good faith and in a straightforward and honest way, however the input was collected using a template form supplied by SCAG – the same template given to each jurisdiction – which did not allow for input unique to that jurisdiction. The current RHNA allocation given to Sierra Madre is patently unfair because it does not take into consideration factors that are unique to Sierra Madre. We understand that the allocations were based on a methodology agreed upon by the RHNA subcommittee and their application of the state housing law and we have no desire to undermine either. However, we believe that our circumstance, based on location, size, and uniqueness, warrants consideration for exception. We ask that you take these factors into consideration.
In response to the 2158 factors, the City of Sierra Madre presented convincing arguments against 8 of the 13 factors – all that directly applied.
Our appeal presentation focuses on three : water supply constraints, jobs/housing balance and land use.
Water constraints: Sierra Madre is one of very few jurisdictions and possibly the only jurisdiction in the San Gabriel Valley region entirely dependent on local ground water for its water supply – which makes us entirely dependent on Mother Nature and no application or interpretation of State law can make her conform.
Consistent with Section 65584.04 of the Calif. Government Code RHNA Statutes, the City submitted new information in its revision request which responds to Section A, which we believe was not evaluated and considered by SCAG and the RHNA subcommittee with regard to the impact on the residents of the City.
The 15 page report from the San Gabriel Valley Raymond Basin Water District details the dire situation Sierra Madre is in, with regard to adequate water delivery to its current residents over the planning period. The report proves this with statistics and historical data that cannot be ignored. Our dire situation is further confirmed by a letter from Anthony Zampiello, Executive Officer of the Raymond Basin Management Board verifying that both the quantity and quality of the groundwater supplies to the City are declining due to a deficit between average annual inflow and outflow of water. This places Sierra Madre in jeopardy without recourse to deliver service to a residency already conserving beyond the average. SCAG and the subcommittee did not consider this letter as an affidavit of a situation we cannot control.
The absolute decreed right of only 1764 acre-feet of water is unreliable for servicing existing residents. Additional services and housing at increased densities change unreliable to insufficient by accelerating the rate of the City’s declining water supply. This is described in detail in the City’s appeal submission and corroborated by the report from the Raymond Basin Water District, also included.
The city has no direct connection to any other water source and certainly no guarantee to purchase or obtain water from a neighboring community in times of drought or need.
At the revision hearing, the Committee Chair stated that it was difficult to justify a RHNA reduction based on water supply constraints because the City did not have a building moratorium in place. Although the City does not currently have a building moratorium in place and does issue building permits, the permits are largely for remodels. In the last 5-10 years, the number of new water services added can be counted on one hand and each has been contentious because of water. Sierra Madre’s current zoning laws and General Plan policies are established to maintain low density development in large part to conserve the City’s water supply and the City has implemented a mandatory water conservation plan to minimize the effects of water shortage to water customers, to comply with the Calif. Water Code and to significantly reduce delivery and consumption of water.
The City has and continues to raise water rates fairly dramatically, starting in 2011 and continuing through 2014, partly in an attempt to reduce consumption. If reduction goals are not achieved, we will eventually be forced to impose a moratorium. I might add that our ever-increasing water rates offset the benefit of the low/mod income housing and, instead, negates the benefit.
Further, SCAG has made it clear that state RHNA law trumps all local ordinances and zoning laws so why would a moratorium make a difference?
Additionally, with regard to water quality, the San Gabriel Council for Watershed Health, in their recent WCF (Watershed Condition Framework), found that of the 11 watersheds, only one scored in the” functioning properly” range, seven “at risk” and three “impaired function”. Sierra Madre, because of its location, is a steward of water quality for cities below and in a study conducted by the San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resource Study, it is documented and determined that water quality is dependent on the level of development and land use. And without adequate funding to counter adverse impacts on water resources, public health and safety concerns will rise. Then mitigation factors will have to be established and implemented at, of course, a cost to the taxpayer.
This cannot be just a statistical exercise and mathematical equivocation when we are talking about a life-sustaining resource.
Jobs/Housing: We have a dramatic jobs/housing imbalance. As presented in our 2158 argument, Sierra Madre already has nearly 2.4 times the recommended number of housing units per job. It makes no sense whatsoever to provide low/mod housing only to have those residents waste time and money commuting long distances to work. Sierra Madre is a city of only 3 square miles. Only 4% of the entire city is available for industrial/commercial structures and associated job creation. That 4% is vital to keep our economic base and very limited sales tax, which provides less than 3% of our general fund revenue. So how do we find jobs to even approach the optimal ratio of 1.5 jobs per housing unit? SCAG is projecting the City will gain 107 jobs by 2020 and another 61 by 2035 but we would need a total of over 7,000 jobs to get to the optimal ratio based on our existing housing units – that s more than double the jobs we currently have.
The City of Sierra Madre is not a transportation hub so people will not seek residency here if there are no jobs. If there are jobs to be added in the City they will likely be persons working out of their homes. Expecting people to reside in the City and travel to jobs without a transit system is counter to the RTP goals and increases cost and pollution. Additional housing dictated by RHNA will make matters worse.
This is another example of why this process cannot be considered as a mathematical equivocation uniformly applied to all jurisdictions.
Land Use: The population and housing stock numbers for Sierra Madre have been flat and stable for decades. The topography and seismic potential make expansion difficult and unsafe. All opportunities for infill have been explored and do not exist outside of a confiscation of personal property and eminent domain.
Of the mere 610 acres of vacant land in the city, all but one acre is located within the Hillside Management Zone because, for a number of reasons, the land is unsuitable for high-density residential housing. One-half of the undeveloped hillsides are subject to conservation easements held in trust and legally cannot be developed. Approximately 40 acres of this land are subject to flood control easements. All land in this zone is in the Very High Fire Hazard Zone and has been characterized by numerous landslides and flooding. The steep slopes in this zone would require significant grading which is costly and increases the risk of landslides and flooding with debris structures that could not contain the flow. Aside from the general impracticality of imposing low/mod housing in this zone, the extremely high cost makes it economically infeasible.
Our programs for the 4th RHNA Cycle are in implementation and that has exhausted our opportunities. We have no place to put an additional 55 units whether all at once or a few per year. Additionally, because we are required to meet the density requirement of 20 units per acre by state law, we cannot just put a unit here or there even if we could find a place to squeeze one in. The law precludes selective placement to attempt to meet the requirement.
Another example of why the process cannot be implemented as a mathematical equivocation.
Additional information is included in the City’s 2158 submission, RHNA Revision Request and RHNA Appeal Request. Our arguments are solid and substantial. If those arguments were considered in regard to the unique situation of the jurisdiction, a RHNA reduction would be completely justifiable and that would answer the question raised by a SCAG staff member at the revision request hearing as to why our City should receive a reduction when so many others are not. We have unique and extenuating circumstances and we are here presenting them and asking.
There is enough room in the contingency unit numbers or “cushion” as it has been termed to grant revisions where extenuating circumstances warrant them. We believe we are one of those situations.
At several CEHD meetings, I have asked what evaluation process is in place to determine the success of one cycle before embarking on another. One answer given by a committee member stated that not one single unit has been built as a result of the process and that this is nothing but a “feel good exercise”.
How can a process that burdens the taxpayer and creates an unworkable situation, one that is economically infeasible, especially with the recent dissolution of the RDA’s, be justifiable?
How is it that the process repeats cycle after cycle accomplishing nothing?
The conditions under which the RHNA law was established have changed dramatically. It would be prudent and pragmatic to establish a process to assist in changing the law. Sierra Madre would support and partner in such a process.
We respectfully request that the RHNA subcommittee not follow the SCAG staff recommendation and grant the City of Sierra Madre’s request to reduce the fifth cycle RHNA number to zero based on the unique situation and extenuating circumstances as presented in the 2158 arguments, Revision Request with additional information and Revision Appeal.
(Mod: Our appeal was rejected. None of this was taken into account.)