Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Of course, we know they are not coming here and only exist on paper. Kind of like much of Sierra Madre's water supply for development projects.
Sierra Madre is, unfortunately, at the bottom of a pyramid of corruption that begins with the State Legislature in Sacramento and is lavishly lubricated with handsome sums of cash from lobbyists for developers, construction interests and Realtors. All of which seeps down through a vast interconnected bureaucracy of State, County and regional planning organizations, and ends up here. And after having sold out from under us our right to determine what it is we want for our community, Sacramento is then obligated to enforce the desires of the concerned lobbies that lined their pockets. Which means forcing towns like Sierra Madre to plan for stack and pack development nobody living here wants. Except, of course, for a few rather over-represented members of the Downtown Investors Club.
Now somewhere along the way a strategy was developed here that would take some of SCAG's RHNA pressure off of us. And that would be to identify housing that already exists within the borders of Sierra Madre, but have always been off the grid. The City could then claim these units as additional housing, which would then hopefully satisfy some of the RHNA requirements imposed upon us by the state government through SCAG.
In other words, we could claim any previously unknown second units as new housing development, and then fold them into our General Plan. These units likely being the small second houses some folks have in their backyards, which are traditionally known as either guest houses or granny flats.
Which all sounds fairly cut and dried, and a novel solution to some fairly serious grief. However, this is also the real world, and therefore there are problems. That being, these granny flats are not "legal" because they aren't registered with the City. Meaning they have not been subjected to the codes and customs most housing here has endured. Nor have taxes been paid, either. The result being that many owners will still prefer that the City not know about their little cottages out back, and will not care to talk about them.
Recently the City of Sierra Madre mailed out a few sheets of paper entitled "Sierra Madre Second Unit Survey and Amnesty Program." The purpose of this was to have folks identify their secret granny flats so that they can be included among our RHNA numbers, and to offer them an amnesty should they do so. Here is how this amnesty offer is made:
As part of this effort, a second unit amnesty program will also be available for those second units that may have been constructed without building permits. The City would like to legalize these units so that they can contribute towards the RHNA requirements. The amnesty program will enable property owners to register these units with the City without facing fines for non-permitted construction. In addition, legalizing an unpermitted second unit can increase a property's value upon sale. Property owners will not be subject to code enforcement action when applying for amnesty of their second unit, unless there is a clear and imminent danger to public safety and/or environmental health. The enclosed "Second Unit Amnesty Program Summary Sheet" provides details on the program and outlines the steps involved in applying for an amnesty permit.
And therein lies the problem. While the owner of a second unit granny flat might not be punished for having so big a secret on their property, will they also receive an amnesty from visits by code enforcement and building inspection officials, people who will then make legally binding suggestions on how exactly to bring these granny flats up to code with the City? The required permits alone for such work will run these property owners thousands of dollars.
This is alluded to on the amnesty summary sheet:
The City's goals in establishing the amnesty program are:
1) To encourage healthy and safe conditions in existing housing units.
2) To meet the City's share of affordable housing units (RHNA) required by the State.
3) To reduce or eliminate the requirement to establish zoning for higher density multi-family housing.
Now I am completely in favor of the third goal. And in my mind that does make this project worthwhile. As I said previously, it is my contention that RHNA numbers are the product of an inept and quite possibly corrupt State government. California is not undergoing a population boom right now, rather more people are leaving than coming in. Therefore there is no burning need to build stack and pack development. Except, of course, in the minds of certain invested development and real estate interests with lots of paid for influence in Sacramento.
So here is my question. Should City Hall be doing this on the backs of people who just happen to own a granny flat in their backyard? Most of which were built long before the codes that the City is so concerned about even existed?
Once the owners of these "second units" identify them to the City Hall, will they be subject to visits from code and building inspectors? And this need "to encourage healthy and safe conditions in existing housing units," will it result in the City demanding that these buildings be brought up to code? With the permits and City fees involved alone costing these unfortunate property owners thousands of dollars?
It is nice that the City of Sierra Madre will not punish people for the offense of having ownership of a granny flat in their backyards. However, what good will an amnesty from having to pay fines be to those who will still end up paying the City thousands of dollars in permit costs?
In the end we are talking about semantics. Money out of the pockets of property owners is still money. Whether it is for fines or permit fees won't matter much.
Until there is an amnesty on permit costs for these property owners as well, I would suggest they not return any of the information requested by City Hall. It is good that the City of Sierra Madre is fighting back on the RHNA issue. What isn't so good is that this could also be seen as just another opportunity to raise revenue.
Posted by The Moderator at 5:00 AM