Low-income housing talk heats up as city finalizes housing element

The Claremont City Council held a special joint meeting with the Planning Commission Tuesday to discuss renewing the city’s housing element, with low- and very low-income housing taking center stage.

The meeting, as outlined by Community Services Director Brian Desatnik, was not convened to develop any type of brick-and-mortar housing. Rather, its purpose was to identify parcels of land throughout the city that could contain certain types of residential zones to fulfill state requirements.

“We are not evaluating actual development proposals,” Mr. Desatnik said. “What this is, is a housing plan, which is part of our general plan.”

The council approved two parcels out of the five presented—the old golf course at 1550 N. Indian Hill currently owned by the Claremont Colleges, and a site near the corner of Foothill and Monte Vista along the eastern border of Claremont and Upland.

The golf course site, presented to council as site three, is zoned “Institutional Educational.” Student and faculty housing, which can be built on the site, count toward the city’s housing requirement. In order for the state to accept the zone, the city would have to pass an amendment to bypass the conditional use permit requirement to build multi-family housing on the property. According to city documents, Claremont only needs six acres of the 31.5-acre property to qualify, at about 23 units per acre.

Site four is 9.5 acres and is zoned as “Business/Industrial.” For the state to accept this lot, a high-density residential zone overlay would have to be applied. The lot could still be developed as mixed-use, but the overlay opens the door for potential residential development.

According to city documents, Claremont’s Real Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) target, or its regional share, is 373 housing units—49 units for extremely-low-income, 49 for very-low income, 59 for other low-income, 64 for moderate-income and 152 for above-moderate-income. However, the city has not met RHNA numbers by a total of 157 units, with up to 30 units per acre of parcel land.

To satisfy the state, potential low-income units must come as part of new development. Of the seven housing developments recently constructed or currently in the planning phase in Claremont, none offer low-income units. Some inclusionary housing exists on Base Line Road, however, the units are either moderate- or above-moderate income. Affordable housing development occurs during the planning stages—largely by request of the planning commission or city council—as developers submit design plans.

According to Mr. Desatnik, Claremont is one of 11 cities in Los Angeles County that are currently not in compliance with the state in regards to an updated housing element. Claremont’s previous due date for a Housing Element Update was February 2014.

If the city continues to operate on an expired housing element, the state could levy penalties, including halting all development within the city.

Courier Place does not count toward the new housing element. Mr. Desatnik explained that once the old plan expires, the units associated with that plan do not count toward the new plan.

Many of the citizens who spoke during public comment were concerned with the inclusion of a 7.2-acre parcel near the southwest corner of Indian Hill and Arrow Highway. Some, like Bob Gerecke, wished the city would scatter low-income housing, as opposed to concentrating the units all in one development.

“Many cities have found that locating a large number of low-income units on a single site is a disaster, a social disaster,” Mr. Gerecke said. “It results in the development of a subculture there with negative effects on public health and safety.”

Mr. Gerecke emphasized that distributing low-income housing throughout the city will allow for more integration of low-income residents within the community.

Dick Tipping concurred, telling the council that applying a low-income concentration in one spot “is bad policy, and it is also bad for your health.”

Other speakers lamented the south Claremont location, telling the council more low-income sites should be located in the northern part of the city, above Base Line.

“We, south of the border, or south of the railroad tracks, have met our quota and beyond as far as low-income housing,” resident Vivian Servant said. “So I would appreciate it if you really just take site five off from consideration completely.”

Resident Ed Leavell gathered a 64-signature petition,  to get the city to discard the Arrow Highway site from the list.

In response to Mr. Gerecke’s comment about creating numerous smaller sites, Mr. Desatnik explained that the state of California would not accept such small parcels. 

“This goes back to our state requirements; the size of that .8-acre site we have on Harrison—we had a really tough time getting them to accept a site that small,” Mr. Desatnik said, referring to a parcel on Harrison and Cambridge that has been used since 2009 to satisfy the state’s requirement. “That’s about the smallest they would accept.”

The council and commission members ultimately took the Arrow?Highway site off the list. Commission member Cynthia Humes suggested the site could be used for a mixed-use development, while commission member James Jackson envisioned the property as a potential “Village South” commercial area.

Mr. Jackson noted that Tri-City Mental Health will be providing two new units on Base Line for families, and wondered if those units would count toward the city’s 373-unit quota.

“Those two units, my understanding is they are being made affordable to low-income households,” Mr. Desatnik said. “But there’s no covenance attached to those. I don’t believe those would qualify for the credits.”

Opanyi Nasiali took issue with the notion that Claremont’s low-income housing could be pushed to the outskirts of the city, away from the center of town, should the Monte Vista property be selected.

“You all talk about having affordable housing in the city, and when we come to a discussion like this, everybody says, ‘Not in my neighborhood,’” Mr. Nasiali said. “We can’t have our cake and eat it, too. If you truly believe in having affordable housing for everybody, the community should be willing to seriously consider that and be willing to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll take some.’”

Mr. Nasiali also took aim at the entire process itself, calling it nothing more than a “game.”

“Either we are serious about it, or we’re not. And I have to say the state is not serious about it either,” Mr. Nasiali said. “They tell us to go through this exercise, and then they wait and see what happens. They still allow development to take place. What happens when we run out of development? We stop. And so, we’re playing a game.”

In the end, the council and commission voted to move forward with the old golf course and the Monte Vista Avenue property.

The council will meet throughout December to fine-tune the new draft Housing Element, which will then be vetted by CEQA and sent to the State Housing and Community Development Department (HCD) for review.

—Matthew Bramlett



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