Santa Paula Times

John Douglas outlines for the audience details about the Housing Element process. Photo by Don Johnson

Housing advocates fill Community Center for Housing Element workshop

February 01, 2008
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesHousing advocates filled the Community Center Wednesday night to address updating the Housing Element, leading to several sharp exchanges and pleas for both upper and lower-income opportunities.California cities are mandated by the state to update Housing Elements - a portion of a city’s General Plan - every five years to craft goals and policies to provide housing for all segments of the community.City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz noted that the meeting is the first of three leading up to the March 19 adoption of a new plan - the draft will be reviewed March 4 by the City Council and Planning Commission.Children were holding up signs urging housing for all amid the crowd that included Mayor Bob Gonzales, Vice Mayor Ralph Fernandez and Councilmen Dr. Gabino Aguirre and John Procter as well as Planning Commission Chairman Gary Nasalroad, Vice Chair Paul Skeels and Commissioners Steve Brown and Jesse Ornelas.Consultant John Douglas explained the elements and requirements of the 2008-2014 General Plan as well as characteristics of Santa Paula that would influence into the plan.The element will “focus on the city’s housing priorities and strategies” including maintenance and improvement of existing housing.The plan also must consider future growth “needs for all economic segments, looking at the full spectrum from lower to upper-income families,” as well as special needs.Constraints, such as zoning, property availability, development standards and fees must also be considered and cities are “expected to do what they can do if the constraints are unreasonable.”Planners must deal with state law and the process of “Updating the Housing Element is governed very, very closely by the state,” and must include an evaluation of how the city adhered to its last Housing Element, said Douglas.Needs assessments based on population, housing characteristics, employment trends, condition of housing stock help guide city policy, goals and objectives.Countywide the portion of single-family detached homes is about 64 percent, less than 60 percent in Santa Paula.“What happened is that over the last seven years only 42 percent of new housing” constructed in the city has been single family detached, “compared to over two-thirds countywide.”Douglas said that a “significant” amount of development in the city over the past seven years has concentrated on condominiums and apartments.According to the 2000 U.S. Census Santa Paula has the lowest median income - about $41,000 - in the county, 70 percent of the county median.“Ventura County as a whole as a relative high income compared to other places in the state,” said Douglas.The existing Housing Element called for the creation of 243 (17 percent) very-low-income, 177 (13 percent) low-income, 725 (18 percent) moderate-income and 725 (52 percent) above moderate-income housing units.“...the total is almost 1,400 units, only 316 have been built,” said Douglas with more than half built for lower-income households.Although cities must address housing they “do not build housing, do not have full control” of development although they can be involved in housing programs for new and existing dwellings.The median county income is $79,500 for a household of four and low-income is considered in the $68,000 range.“Talk about sticker shock,” such a household’s affordable figures are monthly rent of $1,714 or a home purchased for $325,000.Five of the top 10 jobs projected for the county pays less than $15 an hour.Santa Paula - which ranks fifth in the county for allotted growth - is expected to plan/create 2,241 homes consisting of 453 very-low income units, 390 low-income, 462 moderate and 936 above-moderate.“The focus of our work in updating the housing plan is on lower-income,” said Douglas. “It’s the most difficult to produce...the private market does a pretty good job” providing higher-end housing but the work is harder to create housing for lower-income categories.Several public speakers asked if a previous housing study would be included in the Housing Element process and Douglas said any relevant studies or information would be taken into account.Peter Wright asked if the city could provide a comparison of code violations of nonprofit and for profit housing.
Larry Sagely asked what are the consequences if goals set by the state mandated Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) are not met and asked if the study takes into consideration fiscal impacts on city revenues.There’s not an “Explicit penalty because cities don’t have total control,” over development but Douglas said there are “consequences for things that cities do have control over,” such as adopting plans and zoning.Specific economic and fiscal analysis is not part of the Housing Element but “is part of Council decision-making process” when it comes to development noted Douglas.Other questions centered on overcrowding and substandard living conditions, which Douglas said the city could exert control over by code enforcement.“It’s something that cities all over this country are dealing with,” he noted.Several speakers said that Santa Paula needs more higher-end housing to balance existing low-income numbers.When attorney Eileen McCarthy of the Rural Assistance League addressed the number of low-income units built since January 2006 a man in the audience verbally confronted her.Former Mayor Mary Ann Krause, a retired certified planner, said that for18 months she was involved in working with the Southern California Association of Governments to review the RHNA formula.“One of the things we found at that time was the formula perpetuated poor communities...poor communities became poorer and richer communities became richer,” by housing allocations.An agreement was reached with most counties to change the formula so it “takes into account the struggling communities...communities who have low-income would get fewer low-income in the future so they would have a better opportunity to provide for the low-income they already have.”The Housing Element is also a “statement of the needs and aspirations of a community” and Krause said that there is “a real strong bias in the community against condominiums,” coveted by retiring baby boomers.If such needs or wants are not explicitly spelled out in the element Krause said that developers might not approach the city to build same.Higher paying jobs have been lost to Santa Paulans said Bob Borrego and “now we have a big workforce of ag workers that is permanent” for year-round harvesting.He urged that people work together to end “petty bickering” over housing created for farm workers.The remarks of several Spanish-speaking audience members focused on the benefits of affordable housing and the differences housing opportunities - including Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation’s Vista Hermosa - have had on their families.Dr. Dora Crouch noted that not only farm workers face housing shortages but also low-income seniors and that Santa Paula’s vacancy rate is small.“...young couples need affordable housing” and Judy Ochoa said she does not view the affordable housing issue as farm workers versus anyone.“I hope that consideration is given that the city of Santa Paula has focused’” strongly up to this point on affordable housing and “bring our city to the position” of economic sustainability that will bring economic vitality to the community.Bringing business to the community that pays a livable wage should also be emphasized said Judy Rice.John Wisda noted that those who attended the workshop with their children “gave us a good picture” of those with housing concerns.“We’re at a crossroad and there are two paths we can go down,” low-income development built by nonprofits that do not return property revenue to the city or to work with independent landlords that pay taxes to improve their properties.“...Santa Paula has an imbalance of low-income housing,” said Sagely. “We need to get balance” to spur new residents with higher disposable incomes to help the community.“It’s evident there are very real needs in our community,” and Santa Paula has been “improvised for too, too long,” said Yolie Cerda. “...we need to stabilize the community, we need revenue to enhance the community” garnered by creating housing that does not deplete the community.