City denies Larkin Place vote violated state law

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

In response to a “notice of violation” from California housing authorities, the City of Claremont maintains the rejection of an easement over city owned land did not violate the law because the affordable housing project, Larkin Place, is still “feasible.”

According to a letter sent last week from City Manager Adam Pirrie to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the Claremont City Council’s denial of an easement at Larkin Park may have derailed the site plan for Larkin Place at the time of the vote, but the project can still move forward because there are other site plans that don’t require an easement.

“HCD fails to recognize that while the Site Plan as proposed has no vehicular access other than access through Larkin Park, other feasible Site Plans are available not requiring vehicular access through Larkin Park,” according to the letter. “Thus it is the alternative site plan and not the project that is rendered infeasible.”

The response letter, written by Pirrie and special counsel Thomas Clark, asked HCD to withdraw the August 12 “notice of violation” which stated, in HCD’s view, that the council violated the Housing Accountability Act when it rejected Jamboree Housing Corporation’s request for the easement.

The state gave Claremont 30 days to respond with a detailed plan for how it would rectify the situation, including reversing the decision about the easement, so that the permanent supportive housing project could proceed. On September 12, the city asked for, and was granted, a 30-day extension.

In the August letter, HCD’s Assistant Deputy Director Local Government Relations and Accountability David Zisser warned if the city failed to find a way for Larkin Place to secure the building permits it needs to begin construction, HCD intended to refer the case to the California Office of the Attorney General. If Larkin Place ends up in state court, the costs to the city could be astronomical.

During its June 28 meeting, the council denied, by a 3-2 vote, Jamboree’s request for a 24-foot by 275-foot easement across an existing parking lot at Larkin Park. The easement, which came coupled with $700,000 worth of improvements to the park, was intended to provided access to a proposed parking lot and affordable housing project Jamboree wants to build on the adjacent property at 731 Harrison Ave. The HCD letter noted the project carried the blessing of city planning staff and was approved by the architectural commission.

Councilmembers Corey Calaycay and Sal Medina, as well as Mayor Pro tem Ed Reece voted no.

Pirrie’s letter also states HCD failed to recognize the city’s authority to control “land use approvals or entitlements necessary for the issuance of building permits” is covered under a different authority than the one used to convey real property, such as an easement.

“The power to regulate land use emanates from California Constitution Article XI Section 7 which states ‘[A] county or city may make and enforce within its limits all local, police, sanitary and other ordinances or regulations not in conflict with general laws,’” according to the city’s response letter.

Those ordinances, know generally as “police powers,” are different from the city’s authority to dispose of real property, which is covered by “constitutional concepts of fair market value and gift of public lands,” as well as Claremont municipal code.

“The suggestion that a general law city is compelled to grant access through a public park to a private party, particularly when that same property has access to a public street stretched the applicability of the HAA beyond reasonable bounds,” according to the city’s letter.

The letter states that since the denial of the easement, Jamboree has “demonstrated a willingness to consider alternate site plans,” including communicating with city staff about plans that do not require vehicle access through Larkin Park.

Furthermore, Jamboree has continued to solicit funding for Larkin Place including a $3 million commitment of Community Project Funding from the San Gabriel Valley Regional Housing Trust. That financial commitment is significant because the housing trust prioritizes projects that are ready to build and Larkin Place was the only development funded “using all of the CPF funding provided through the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” according to the letter.

Claremont city staff expects that Jamboree will submit a proposal for an alternate site plan prior to its application for tax credit financing in early 2023.

“The City also recognizes the fact that a revised site plan without access through Larkin Park must be approved under the HAA if it meets all objective land use standards,” according to the letter.

On Wednesday Marissa Feliciano, director of marketing and communications for Jamboree, said the company doesn’t know when it will submit an updated application to the city.

“We are still working through alternatives with the architect and our design team so that we ensure the best outcome for Larkin Place,” Feliciano said.

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Pirrie said the next step will be for HCD to evaluate the city’s response and make a determination.

“I hope HCD will make a decision sometime soon and that they will withdraw the notice of violation,” he said.

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