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Alhambra Council Offers City Staff Guidance on Inclusionary Housing Ordinance

Photo by David Muñoz.

Location

Alhambra , CA

The Alhambra City Council had just one major item on the agenda Monday night and it was the complex issue of an Inclusionary Housing Ordinance to increase the supply of affordable units within the city limits.

The item was a starting point in the process and included a presentation of various options and alternatives that the city might take to move forward. This issue had been identified by the Council as a goal in its Strategic Plan Objectives for fiscal year 2019-2020. Other Southern California cities including Pasadena, Santa Monica and West Hollywood have such ordinances.

 Marc Castagnola, Alhambra’s director of community development, made the presentation to the council in a series of powerpoint slides. Castagnola and city staff were seeking guidance and direction on a number of questions as they work toward framing an ordinance.

These questions included:

—What should be the minimum number of units in a project that would trigger the requirement for affordable units?  

—When subject to the ordinance, what percentage of the project would be set aside as affordable units?

—Should the city allow credits to developers for greater affordability level in a development?

—Should the city allow an in-lieu fee for all projects with no minimum or maximum number of units?

—Should the city allow all affordable units to be off-site of the main project but stay within the city?

—Should the city allow land donation, by the developer, to build the number of units required, within the city?

To the last four theoretical questions the council ultimately answered yes as points of direction. To question one on the minimum number of units to trigger affordable housing, the council decided on 10 as a starting point,

Question two, on the percentage of affordable units, took up most of the council discussion time. One key factor in this discussion was creating a formula that would maintain the city’s right to future discretionary approval on housing issues.  According to the Power Point presentation California Senate Bill 35 is generally triggered when 10% of all units are required to be affordable, which results in the loss of discretionary approval.

A perceived unbalance in housing might also bring a review of the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance by California’s Department of Housing and Community Development to determine that the ordinance does not unduly constrain the overall production of housing both affordable and market value in a city.

The questions were difficult and city attorney Joseph Montes attempted to frame the issues and explain some red flags that might cause oversight and limit Alhambra’s continued discretion.

Council members Katherine Lee and Adele-Andrade Stadler were leaning toward a 20% figure with Lee noting hypothetically that even if proposed developments like The Villages, which is planned for more than 1,000 units, a 20% affordable housing designation would translate to 200 units. This clearly would make only a dent in the city’s affordable housing situation.

Mayor Ross Maza noted that one developer or development should not have to bear the brunt of the city’s affordable housing dilemma. But Lee noted that this development, if approved, would be one of the largest if not the largest such project in the San Gabriel Valley. Still, several council members voiced concerns that the ordinance be crafted with the future in mind and should not drive developers from the city limits.

Council member Jeff Maloney said that he thought 15% was the appropriate figure to use for this issue. And while he was ultimately in the yes column on all the questions posed he did frame a couple of them in interesting context. To the issue off-site building but within city limits, he wondered if Alhambra actually had space for this kind of option. He noted that there isn’t much vacant land around and the notion of buying a property and tearing down a structure to build affordable units might be a zero-sum gain. He seemed to favor the notion that affordable units be included on the main site of any development project. 

The in-lieu fee proposal was also kicked around a bit with Mayor Maza offering support saying that it could result in a boon to city coffers to use for affordable housing developments. Lee and Andrade-Stadler wondered how these fees would be established? What happens if they are too high? And what happens if they aren’t high enough?

City Manager Jessica Binnquist explained that if, at the end of the full ordinance process, the council decided in favor of in-lieu payments then an independent firm would be brought in to study the issue and recommend a payment schedule.

 But the percentage issue, the sticking point question, kept coming back. Deputy Mayor David Mejia initially leaned in favor of a 10% figure going up to perhaps 20% as a future goal.

He found a compromise and suggested a 15% figure but split in a way that might be more acceptable to outside oversight. That would mean a split that designated 9% for the very-low income category and 6% for the moderate income category.

Once that was agreed upon by council members, the rest of the vote fell quickly into place.

In his presentation, Castagnola offered a timeline for the review and adoption process.     

—March 2, 2020: Planning Commission Recommendation

—March 23, 2020: City Council First Reading of an Ordinance

—April 13, 2020: City Council Second Reading of an Ordinance

—May 23, 2020: Effective Date of the Ordinance.

It was noted that any project submitted after May 23, 2020 will be subject to the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.

 

For details on other items on the Council agenda including consent measures click here.

.For a brief overview of SB35 click here.

For more information on the California Department of Housing and Community Development click here.

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