Aug. 22, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The Ojai Planning Commission met Wednesday to discuss how to meet the 2014 to 2021 state-mandated Housing Element update.
At least one resident told the Commission he hoped the city could use the current drought and limited availability of water as a way to shrink those numbers.
“I met with the Casitas Water District management, and I want to make sure you folks have a clear idea of what’s happening in this valley,” said Ojai resident Bob Daddi. “The Ventura River County Water District is purchasing water from Casitas to provide adequate water for its users. Golden State Water Company is purchasing water from Casitas to provide adequate water for its users. Golden State Water Company continues to give ‘will serve’ notices for water it knows it cannot provide … We are over-drafting our system … Please put some safeguards in there for us, because five to 10 years from now, things are going to be incredibly different.”
John Douglas, ACIP, the consultant hired by the city to help push through the update, had bad news for them.
“Those constraints don’t absolve you from your other responsibilities (according to HCD),” said John Douglas, AICP. “The city is expected to do what it can to address those issues.”
He told the commission that the California Department of Housing and Community, which will review the city’s Housing Element documents, will not view issues like limited water supply as a sound reason to delay or shrink from proving it can accommodate new affordable housing units.
“As with the last Housing Element cycle, there is no requirement in state law that these units be built,” said Douglas. “It only requires the conditions that would allow development to occur, that we establish those regulations and provide administrative assistance for developers.”
Douglas, who did not do the city’s previous update, explained that his would differ in style because each planner and consultant has their unique methodology, but that in substance the two documents will be similar.
Douglas stressed the importance of not getting slowed down by too much detail that can be hammered out during the implementation process of the Housing Element update.
With each Housing Element update, cities must prove they can accommodate their “fair share” of the state’s projected population growth. For Ojai, the Southern California Association of Governments and the state determine this number. Within this cycle, Ojai must not only demonstrate the ability to accommodate the 371 new housing units, 146 will have to qualify as low-income housing.
For Ojai Planning Commissioner Troy Becker and Ojai Democratic Club member Judy Murphy, the state-mandated Housing Element process does not do enough to address the need for affordable housing in Ojai.
“We think the city’s efforts should be totally focused on low-income housing. SCAG assigned Ojai’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment number of 371 with 2010 census data in hand. However, as their documents show, since 2000, our population has decreased by 4.2 percent. Jobs have decreased … School population has decreased by over 50 percent, and the elementary schools by over 75 percent,” said Murphy on behalf of the Democratic Club. “The California legislature, supported by developers, decided that cities must plan for growth, and specified a portion of it to be affordable. We think it is questionable, at best, to plan for growth when our population is decreasing.”
Becker reminded those present that the commission modified the Special Housing Overlay Program in the last Housing Element cycle to require proposed projects to include a higher percentage of low-income units than the state suggests for these projects to be eligible for the zoning overlay. The city’s Special Overlay Program requires a minimum of 15 percent of a project’s units be designated very low-income, 15 percent for low-income units and 20 percent for moderate-income units.
“I think it’s a unique perspective that we took on that,” said Becker. “We encourage the building of affordable housing, we want to see more of that than other communities might. The state might count that as (cost) prohibitive.”
In a recent e-mail to the Ojai Community Development Department, Ojai resident Bill Miley urged the planning commission to make the language of the document clear and accessible for the public, as well as echoing Daddi’s concerns about the local water supply.
“The update of the Housing plan appears in many sections duplicative of the 2006 to 2014 plan it updates. Although appearing extensive and probably comprehensive, there is a need to concentrate the goals and implementation programs into one executive summary at the beginning for better public understanding,” stated Miley. “We are potentially at risk for water shortages due to extended drought conditions. We should be actively involved in acquiring current and predictive water data and information to connect directly to the planned dwelling unit expansion based on the RHNA numbers. Our city carries a fiduciary responsibility to not only those folks within our city limits, and sphere of influence, but for the entire Ojai Valley.”
In other action, the planning commission was unable to vote on a design review permit application for a two-story remodel at 601 Crestview Drive due to the absences of commissioners Paul Crabtree and Kathleen Nolan. Additionally, Becker had to recues himself because of financial involvement with the applicant. The matter was continued to the next meeting Sept. 4.
“I want to apologize. Had I known there would be a quorum issue, I would not have had the applicant come,” said Community Development Director Rob Mullane.
This meeting was the last for Mullane, who resigned Aug. 2 to begin a position with the city of Carmel.
“I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Rob for all the work he accomplished in his short tenure here,” said City Manager Rob Clark.
“I will certainly miss staff, council and the community here. It’s been a very rewarding 18 months,” said Mullane. “I wish it were longer, but we accomplished a lot.”
Mullane estimated that the city should have a new full-time permanent community development director within five to six months, and in the meantime will be served by interim director Ann McLaughlin. When asked to provide advice for his replacement, Mullane said, “They’ll figure it out. Every community is different. It takes a while to get the lay of the land. I’m confident the city will have a good search, and the new director will keep things going as opposed to starting from scratch, which is always a good environment to come into.”
The Planning Commission and Ojai City Council will hold a joint workshop 6 p.m. Sept. 10 to further discuss the Housing Element. Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information.