Attached is the staff report for Thursday night’s Planning Commission meeting dealing with the new State mandated Affordable Housing laws. The inventory lists what the city will need to send to Sacramento, shows the areas where new development can take place, and how it could be reviewed by them. I am sure Sierra Madre will be required to designate a lot more land as suitable for low income and other high density housing.
The new laws require more housing development and higher density. My fear is that there will be great pressure put on the city to rezone a large part of the Monastery land. I don’t have a problem with making housing available to all income levels when done in an appropriate and well planned manner. But the State is not known for doing things that make sense and consider the wishes of the people living in small towns like Sierra Madre who have fought so hard to preserve a cherished way of life. Sorry to spoil your day with this unwelcome news.
Here is what a portion of this Staff Report had to say about this unfortunate matter. The entire document can be easily accessed here.
Using Sacramento's capricious logic there could soon be many more places in Sierra Madre to put low income housing. The Monastery property, One Carter, or right next door to you should you be so blessed. That is the purpose of this new legislation.
Out of control state housing mandates have grown steadily more draconian by the year, but apparently never more so than now. With low income (AKA "affordable housing") always being among Sacramento's top priorities.
But what property would be more vulnerable than the Library property should it be sold? If the state is as fiercely mandating low income housing as some have indicated, how would that property end up being used? Will it be what the community wants to see there? More so than what is there now, Sierra Madre's venerable yet at-risk Library?
Looking for answers, I emailed Sierra Madre City Manager Gabe Engeland. Here is how that conversation went.
The Tattler: Is there any indication that the library property, if sold, could be used to fulfill some of Sierra Madre's new low income housing mandates being put out by Sacramento? Given the rather draconian nature of these so-called "Affordable Housing Laws," wouldn't it have to be? If not that property, where would this mandated low income housing be put? The Monastery? One Carter? Any old where?
City Manager Engeland: There is no indication that the Library property, if sold, would be used to fulfill the RHNA mandates. We have not been contacted by any person or company wishing to purchase the land and develop it for multi-family. This statement is also true for the Monastery, One Carter, etc.
I agree the State laws are stripping away local decision making. How the State decides to enforce this will determine how each RHNA area ultimately responds. The new laws, currently, do not require more housing development or a higher density, they do require the City to review areas which may be suitable for this type of development. Under RHNA, the City will have to submit areas where new development or vacant property could be developed as low-income housing, and this area will likely be larger than it is today, as the new State laws make it so.
With that said any development would still have to "pencil" out for the developer. State law and City code currently already have allowances for a "low-income" housing density bonus in place. The greater density or "low income bonus" would help a developer's bottom-line in getting a project to become profitable, but the development, currently, would also have to comply with our adopted General Plan. Even with the additional incentives called for in State law, and applied as required in our local ordinances, the market is showing how difficult for a developer to put a project together of any magnitude locally.
This is a long way of saying it is very early in the process and the State can determine a lot through administrative application of this law. If we are assigned a percentage of low-income housing for our RHNA area, the State may get to determine our path to it and what penalties are applied if we fall short.
The interesting piece of this is the lot behind the Library is vacant and more than 1 acre. Under the new RHNA, if a vacant lot is City-owned it would have to be included as an area eligible for development under these guidelines.
There will be a lot of discussion on this topic as we move forward and I expect how we understand the law today will change as the State will change requirements, penalties, and enforcement mechanisms. One final caveat, I am not by any stretch of the imagination a RHNA expert. I am happy to connect you with our Planning and Preservation Director to answer specific or technical questions. This will be a long road.
The Tattler: But it is a possibility, correct? Certainly the latest Sacramento mandates on low income (etc) housing doesn't add much clarity to what has already been a very murky process.
City Manager Engeland: Any new development, currently, and regardless of the new mandates, would be eligible for the low-income incentives. The incentives are already defined in State law. It would be very hard to make a project pencil without significant participation from the City. I supposed that could change going forward if the State was participating to a greater extent that it does today--or it could change if the State mandates participation.
For me, the worry is what will the State mandate, and how will these mandates be applied to City-owned vacant properties required to be eligible under the RHNA. The lot behind the Library is city-owned, and vacant, and more than an acre. That is the type of property it appears the State is targeting. As I stated earlier, it depends on how the State mandates and enforces the law, and further if they require local participation. It is just too early to speculate on where this law will settle.
The recent project, Highland Mews, only penciled after the property was transferred to the developer from the City, a Mills Act contract was granted, and other tax benefits were applied by the State. That was for a development of three units. The project was finally listed as "moderate" income housing, not low-income housing, because the developers couldn't get the rents to work without increasing the subsidy or raising the monthly income level.
There are numerous possible outcomes to the RHNA, and they will mostly be determined by the administrative application by the State.
The Tattler: Would you classify Goldberg Park as vacant? If not, how is it different from the property out in back of the Library? Besides a lack of colorful signage?
City Manager Engeland: Goldberg Park is designated, I believe, as park space or open space. It would be considered to have a use, the same our other parks, and not vacant. I'm not sure of the history of how the park was acquired, though I can look into it if you would like. It's possible it was purchased with funds that would prohibit future development, but I'm not sure.
A lot of questions remain unanswered. Here is one. Could the full acre empty lot behind the Library be designated a park or open space by the city, thus returning control to the city? Certainly it doesn't look much different than that idiosyncratic lot known today as Goldberg Park.
I took up Gabe's generous offer to look into the status and history of Goldberg Park. I will pass that information on upon receipt.
An organization called Shelterforce, which has advocated for Affordable Housing legislation, takes a viewpoint that differs from that of City Manager Engeland.
California Takes Historic Step Toward Affordable Housing for All (Shelterforce link): Amid a housing crisis in California, legislators last week approved a historic package of bills that will shape the future of housing policy in the state.
The bills raise revenues for affordable housing production, hold local governments accountable for approval of housing projects, and make housing plans meaningful and inclusive. They balance the power over land-use planning between the state and cities, and they politically move the state in the direction of exploring progressive solutions to solving the housing crisis permanently.
California’s affordable housing problem is multifaceted, and as I have written previously, has grown larger and larger over decades of public and private sector failures. It has manifested itself in almost half of the state’s 6 million renters paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent, and 1.5 million paying over half their income on rent. The state also has the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s, with only one in three households able to afford a median priced home. Meanwhile, California’s homeless crisis is expanding to the countryside and cities deal with widespread health emergencies due to large populations of unsheltered people.
You can read the rest of that by clicking the link provided above.
Video of last night's Planning Commission meeting