Plan calls for 433 new units by 2014
By Nao Braverman
Though incredulous members of the public compare the state’s housing requirements to that of Communist Russia, Ojai’s Planning Commissioners agreed that Ojai needs to follow them.
At a special Planning Commission meeting Wednesday night, the commission recommended that the City Council approve the Preliminary Housing Plan.
Constructed by consultant Tom Figg, in cooperation with a task force comprised of planning commissioners and representatives from local non-profit housing agencies, the preliminary plan outlines how the city will allow for the construction of 433 units between 2006 and 2014.
With six new units built since 2006 already the 433 unit requirement has decreased to 427. Fifty of them could be allocated to seniors to address the city’s increasing number of senior citizens, 15 can be obtained through affordable housing covenants, which make existing units contractually affordable, seven could be obtained through second units on already existing homes, 13 can be constructed in the Village Mixed Use zone and the remaining 196 could be constructed in a special housing overlay.
The overlay would allow proprietors of land zoned for industrial use to construct housing instead. Since housing construction would be optional and not required, the overlay will be large enough to accommodate twice as many as the required 196 units, because there is no guarantee that property owners will build housing, according to the plan. In correspondence to Ojai’s population demographics, 254 of the total new units need to be affordable to low, very low- and moderate income residents, according to Figg.
Several residents including task force member Rod Greene argued that the city should refuse to adhere to the State Department of Housing and Community Development. Ojai resident Stan Greene said that 427 new units was an atrocious request that did not make sense for Ojai, and that the city’s water infrastructure could not accommodate such an increase. A state agency that had no knowledge of the community should not have the right to make such demands, he said.
“This topdown authoritative planning is like the Soviet Union,” he added.
According to the Regional Housing Needs Assessment Ventura County must allow for 28,481 units to be built by 2014 and the Southern California Association of Governments allotted 433 of those to be constructed in Ojai. The city is required to update it’s Housing Element to accommodate the constructing of those additional units.
City attorney Monte Widders explained that the only way to legally challenge the state’s mandate was to show findings that Ojai does not have enough land to build on or enough money to assist in the construction of affordable housing.
Rod Greene was insistent on refusing the mandate nonetheless.
“Its preliminary plan was the most environmentally destructive proposal Ojai has ever had,” he said.
Ojai resident Bill Miley wondered whether the city had enough water to accommodate the mandated growth.
“Without water there is no life. Without adequate water there is no viable community and economy …” he said. Therefore, before we go barging ahead with a Housing Element Plan, there needs to be a water resource supply assessment for the next five to seven years.”
Planning Commissioner Cortus Koehler agreed.
“I am uncomfortable about the environmental ramifications. If you are making it possible to build 400 and some units, they could possibly be built, and I think that would be catastrophic,” he said.
The remaining commissioners, though a little daunted by the numbers of new units required, thought the Housing Element Plan was a good opportunity for the city to address housing needs for the local work force and the inevitable growing population. The plan was recommended by all commissioners, except Koehler.
At the council meeting the night before, City Council approved a design review permit for Richard Colla’s Aliso Street Condominium Development, “Cottages Among the Flowers.”
The project would remodel eight existing affordable rental units in addition to the construction of two new units. Though the project plans were tasteful according to council members, several current tenants said the remodel would force out existing renters who would likely not be able to afford condominiums and might have to leave Ojai. Though council members all expressed sympathy for the loss of much needed rental units, they concurred with Colla that a remodel was needed.
Mayor Carol Smith said she could not vote for the project unless some compensation for the loss of rental units was offered, particularly as the recent housing element study outlined the need for affordable rentals in Ojai. But Colla said he could not make such a promise without increasing the prices, and such an increase would probably make the condominiums too expensive. “Cottages Among the Flowers” was thus approved with the support of every council member except Smith.