State mandate for 427 new units by 2014 late, as council concerns focus on water, rentals
By Sondra Murphy
Water, environmental concerns and physical space were debated vs. expensive yet substandard structures that often serve as rentals in the city as the Ojai City Council examined options Tuesday to help move into compliance with affordable housing laws.
City consultant Tom Figg introduced reports on a Draft Housing Element, recommending that the council choose one of four options to submit to the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
The Housing Element is a required plan to accommodate new housing to be certified by the HCD and is based on the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) mandated by State Housing Law as part of the periodic process of updating local housing elements of the General Plan. The RHNA quantifies the need for housing within each jurisdiction during specified planning periods.
In May, council members said they were not ready to adopt a plan to accommodate 427 new housing units required by the state. In December, the council determined it could not support any of the three options presented to accommodate a state mandate that conflicts with the city’s growth management plan.
Ojai was to have created a Housing Element plan by June 30, 2008, and the lack of one is troubling to city staff. “As of July 1, you’ve been vulnerable,” Figg told the council. “The farther out we get from the target deadline of June of last year, the more problematic it is for us to meet our requirements.” He warned that developers or others might initiate lawsuits against the city if the council continues delaying a decision.
Of the choices, council leaned toward a fourth option added since last month that addressed involving existing structures that are presently used as rentals but have varying legal status.
Councilwomen Betsy Clapp and Sue Horgan were not impressed with the options that imposed requirements on the city it would not necessarily be able to meet, such as water needs. “I find myself still in a position of not being able to accept any of these options,” said Horgan. “None of them make any sense for Ojai.”
“I agree that I would hesitate to pass a Housing Element due to fear of litigation,” said Clapp. “I think we should pass policy that makes sense.”
The entire council expressed dissatisfaction over the forced mandate, but liked the newest option presented that relies more on identifying and upgrading existing units in the city.
In going over the draft proposal, Figg believed that HCD would likely receive the fourth option with less enthusiasm than the others, but said, “It presents reliance on existing structures more in line with the community values and the community scale.”
The council chamber was packed with people wanting to speak on the issue. Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency board member Jim Ruch and Golden State Water Company superintendent Skip Faria offered contradictory facts about the state of water supply in the valley. Faria said Golden State would be able to import water into the valley regardless of local supply, but conceded that the expense of any necessary importation would be passed on to consumers.
“I think Skip is saying they’re a water supply company and will supply you water, it will just cost a ton of money,” said Councilwoman Carol Smith.
Much time was spent by the council and members of the public in asking questions largely fielded by legal consultant Julie Biggs, who explained that the process between submission and adoption allowed for amendments and adjustments and that the city would better protect its point of view by working with the state.
“There is a difference between not complying entirely and being in the process,” said Biggs. “If you’re not doing it at all, then you don’t have the same defenses as if you are in the process but have not reached consensus yet. What you need to achieve to comply with state law is substantial compliance with the law, which is different from complete compliance.”
“We can probably all agree that affordable housing is good, but we do not appreciate the way it is being foisted upon us,” said Carolyn Vondriska during the public addresses. “For developers, only 15 percent of their units need to be dedicated to affordable housing. We already have a glut of unaffordable housing here in Ojai. We don’t need anymore.”
“I was on the task force and we gave this all a lot of going over and we looked at the subject properties,” said Dulanie La Barre. “I would say coming up with No. 4 kind of meets both the desire to meet RHNA while not growing very much. It is just legitimizing what’s already there and that seems to me a good option. Some property could be split into duplexes and these are ways I see that don’t encourage new construction. We need to look at the spirit of the law, to ask cities to make housing available to meet the needs of its community. In my experience, if it isn’t mandated, it doesn’t get built.”
Smith pressed for the council to advance. “We’re doing nothing but debating this darn piece of paper for the state. I almost feel like we are in the ‘Groundhog Day’ movie. I can almost predict what the speakers are going to say.”
Mayor Joe DeVito got to the heart of the matter. “If we selected one of the options this evening, once you submit it to them, there’s a process that begins. HCD may take several months to look at what we submit and once they send it back to us, the City Council can proceed however it likes?” he asked Biggs, who answered affirmatively.
The council eventually concluded the risks of being out of compliance outweighed the other concerns and expected they could fine-tune the plan to be harmonious to Ojai’s character. After more than two hours spent on the item, the council voted 3-1 to have staff prepare a plan to bring to a council meeting next month. Horgan cast the dissenting vote.
To read the entire 17-page administrative report, go to the city web site at ci.ojai.ca.us. From the left menu bar, click on City Council, council agendas and reports, Item 3 Draft Housing Element, Attachment to Draft Housing Element.pdf.