March 26, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Just when you thought the 2006-2014 state-mandated Housing Element was almost completed — Ojai’s City Council is expected to finish with that in April — another one is fast approaching.
The Council and city staff have begun preparing Ojai’s 2014-22 Housing Element. The newer Housing Element will replace the current one, and must be submitted to the state of California this summer.
“This last Housing Element is only in effect for a short time, after which it sits on the shelf for informational purposes,” explained community development director Rob Mullane. “The Planning Commission is looking forward to this, because we get to revisit the issues that caused our community heartburn; for example, the three stories allowance.”
According to the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) website, “California State Housing Element Law enacted in 1980 requires SCAG and other regional councils of government in California to determine the existing and projected regional housing needs for persons at all income levels … State legislation and the Regional Housing Needs Assessment process are intended to address housing needs for projected state population and household growth.”
“The most important thing is to be plugged into the (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) RHNA numbers,” says Mullane. “Last cycle we were allocated about 200 units. This cycle we had 433 units. The main reason is the previous staff was not involved with the process at the state level, or with SCAG, so we got a bigger allocation than makes sense for our community. The RHNA allocation changes each cycle. If you’re involved, it is possible you don’t have to do a Special Housing overlay (an added layer of zoning that allows developers to build residential units in non-residential zones). There are all these other programs and strategies that accommodate units. This cycle we were allocated 177 units for the overlay, but that number could have been zero or extremely low, if we had started with low RHNA numbers.”
While the Housing Element encompasses numerous programs, including a form of rent control in which municipalities can purchase apartments with state and/or federal funding and rent them out for less than market value, a program Ojai missed in the most recent cycle.
There are also programs that offer amnesty for second units built without proper permits, mortgage assistance and expanding the Village Mixed Use zone to allow for residential units above or adjacent to commercial units, among others. Perhaps the most contentious program has been the Special Housing Overlay District, which has elicited numerous comments from the public, both from those wishing to have the added residential development zoning applied to their properties, and those who decry the types of development it potentially allows. Having the overlay applied to ones property entitles the owner to develop up to 20 residential units per acre, as well as being exempt from completing a California Environmental Quality Act document. Mullane maintains, however, that any development in Ojai must still adhere to guidelines set forth in the city’s General Plan, as well as complete other environmental studies.
“Especially through the design review process you can get projects that reflect community values. You can shape development. That is why Oxnard, and lately Ventura built tall buildings, but not Ojai,” assures Mullane. “In Santa Barbara, we took a tour of some of their affordable housing projects, and they are nice-looking buildings, apparently they are often confused with hotels, because the design review process is very stringent there. That has a huge impact on how projects come forward. There are ways you get community character plugged into development. The State doesn’t interfere with other General Plan components.”
While the State sets no specific percentage of units that must be affordable for development projects under the SPL overlay, Ojai Planning Commission, after hearing concerns from Ojai residents like Bill Miley and others, determined at its March 6 public hearing that Council should consider requiring 65 percent of proposed units be affordable to qualify for development under the SPL overlay.
Council will hear and discuss this recommendation April 9 at its regular meeting, at 7 p.m. at 401 S. Ventura St. in Ojai.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information.