Land Use

San Benito County and cities proceed with housing element updates

Jurisdictions take action in response to governor’s call for more home building.

Edited 7/8/19 at 9:53 a.m. to include links to housing elements.

Though the Hollister City Council has a recess through the month of July, an important vote on the city’s housing element is expected when the governing body reconvenes in August.

On Jan. 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill requiring more homes be built in each community to meet the demand throughout the state, and he’s backing this up with a threat to punish cities and counties that don’t meet their housing goals under an amended planning and zoning law, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Days before, on Dec. 14, 2018, San Juan Bautista received a letter of noncompliance stating that its housing element would no longer comply with new revisions to the law. Hollister received a similar letter on Feb. 1 indicating that the city’s proposed housing ordinance was unacceptable to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

A housing element is a portion of a city or county’s general plan, required by state law since 1969, that outlines appropriate development procedures. According to HCD, “local governments must adopt plans and regulatory systems that provide opportunities for (and do not unduly constrain) housing development. As a result, housing policy in California rests largely on the effective implementation of local general plans and, in particular, local housing elements.”

Mary Gilbert, executive director of regional transportation agency the Council of San Benito County Governments (COG), told BenitoLink the county and two cities would not be fined for not building affordable housing, but they could be fined for not planning for affordable units. 

“They’re not going to fine a city now based on the law because the housing element was not in compliance for affordable units,” Gilbert said. “San Juan Bautista is working on updating theirs because they are out of compliance.” She said she didn’t know if the county is in compliance.

The county did not respond to BenitoLink’s request for information about its housing element.

Hollister City Councilman Marty Richman told BenitoLink that the city’s housing element should be coming up for a vote before the council in August. Once finalized, he said it will be sent to HCD to determine if it meets state requirements.

“It’s not possible to know at this time whether it does,” Richman said. “There are no definitive criteria that would tell us whether or not that it meets HCD’s requirements.”

Richman said Hollister has historically failed to build enough affordable or median-income homes.

“Because of the dysfunction of city councils over the years, and the mayor, in my opinion, who takes a lot of the blame, we still don’t have an inclusionary housing ordinance,” he said. “We still don’t have a sunset clause on our entitlements or an effective growth plan.”

He said it was foolish to allow Hollister to “stagger from no growth to overgrowth,” and then for some on the council to actively promote no growth again, this time disguised as smart growth. He said a major concern is the lack of coordination between Hollister and the county, as both continue to build while using the same water and sewage treatment infrastructure.

“Until the numbers are known, we won’t know the full impact,” Hollister City Councilwoman Carol Lenoir said. “I hope we can get our general plan, sphere of influence and development code updated before we have to plan for more housing. I hope we can build enough affordable housing so we don’t get fined. It’s going to take some time to answer our needs for affordable and rental housing since we have not done much in those areas.”

Senate Bill 102, which was originally intended to address grants to build transitional housing for individuals released from incarceration, allocates approximately $8 billion in funding to address California’s housing and homelessness crisis. The bill was last amended on June 27.

In what has been described as a “carrot and stick” approach, increasing housing production requires local governments to implement the law, particularly planning and zoning obligations. There will be incentives to help meet the requirements, as well as punishments if local governments fail to do so.

Even though the law does say that punitive measures are intended to be used only as a last resort, the threat is real and the penalties could be costly. Cities and counties could be fined $10,000 to $600,000 per month, according to the Sacramento Bee report. 

If a jurisdiction’s housing element does not meet HCD’s requirements, it is authorized to notify the state attorney general, who may sue the jurisdiction as happened Jan. 25. Just days after Newsom signed the law, the state sued the City of Huntington Beach for failing to allow enough new homebuilding to accommodate a growing population.

In addition to Newsom’s effort to directly influence local planning, zoning and permitting of market-rate development, the governor is proposing more tools to encourage subsidized and affordable housing:

  • $500 million for subsidized loans for mixed-income developments.
  • Expanding the state low-income housing tax credit, a key lever to motivate investment in subsidized housing.
  • Providing access to state-owned property for private affordable housing projects.
  • Easing approvals for long-term debt for local financing districts that want to provide infrastructure for housing and other economic development projects.
  • Allowing local infrastructure districts to join with federally designated Opportunity Zones by providing similar capital gains tax benefits for investments in these zones in affordable housing and green technology projects.

Gilbert said COG’s involvement with housing elements is to conduct a survey to determine regional housing needs.

“That’s where HCD gives us target numbers for affordable housing and then we work with the cities and county to divide them up among the jurisdictions,” Gilbert said, “They use those numbers to develop their housing elements. We’re in the middle of our eight-year cycle. We updated it four years ago and will start on the next update in two years after we get numbers from HCD. Right now, we’re working with old numbers.”

As for Hollister’s numbers, City Manager Bill Avera told BenitoLink that the city has submitted a certified housing element and “that is what matters,” and if the governor comes up with new requirements, “that may or may not have an impact on our current plan.”

He continued: “Hollister has always been an affordable housing advocate. We wouldn’t be on the radar unless we do something silly, which is not our intent.”

San Benito County Housing Element

City of Hollister Housing Element

City of San Juan Bautista Housing Element

 

Other related BenitoLink articles:

San Juan Bautista does not comply and Hollister under review for state housing requirements

SJB Planning Commission chooses firm to update housing element

 

 

 

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: johnchadwell@benitolink.com.