Outdated housing element could spell trouble for the city

The revisiting of a zone change ordinance was met with tension in the chamber during Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

Councilmember Larry Schroeder pulled the second reading of the zone change from the consent calendar for discussion. The item was passed with a 3-2 vote on May 24. Mr. Schroeder said he felt disturbed that the rest of the Pomona College Master Plan was approved “carte blanche.”

“I am equally disturbed at the lack of meaningful compromise or in-depth explanation of the unwillingness of compromise offered by Pomona College officials over the replacement of the institutional teaching facility, referred to as the museum,” Mr. Schroeder said, calling on his fellow councilmembers to table the second reading of the ordinance.

Mr. Schroeder, who voted against the ordinance on May 24, reiterated his displeasure with language in the Claremont Municipal Code that allows a simple majority on a zone change after two super majorities and a committee failed to reach a definitive conclusion.

Councilmember Opanyi Nasiali, who voted in favor of the zone change on May 24, saw pulling the second reading as an attempt to “muddy up the water.”

“I see an attempt to continue discussion that I thought we had settled, and that disturbs me,” he said, noting that any attempts to delay action “because we are still sore from the previous action” would be irresponsible.

Councilmember Corey Calaycay noted that the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park Master Plan was tweaked at the last minute. He took issue with Mr. Nasiali’s comments, noting that it was unfair to characterize those who have differences of opinions as “trying to manipulate things.”

Resident Jacob Patterson claimed that the city’s outdated housing element should prevent the council from approving the zone change.

“On a procedural ground, I need to object to it because you need to make sure you’re following the proper procedure,” Mr. Patterson said.

The council turned to City Attorney Sonia Carvalho for answers, who said that moving forward without an updated housing element would “present some risk to you,” but noted that Claremont’s positive track record on affordable housing could work in the city’s favor if litigation were pursued.

“We can’t predict the outcome, but I couldn’t sit here as your city attorney and tell you that it’s risk-free to proceed without having that,” Ms. Carvalho said.

The city’s housing element has been out of compliance since February of 2014. In January 2014, the update was sent to the planning commission for review to meet the February 15, 2014 deadline for filing.

A joint city council/planning commission meeting convened in November 2015 to once again try to update the housing element, but since that time nothing has been filed.

The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) requires that cities update their housing elements, which maps potential sites for low-income housing, every five years to show that there is space available within city limits to build low-income housing units. Cities are not required, however, to actually build the units.

“This is where the state law doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Community Services Director Brian Desatnik said in a previous interview. “Very low- and low-income housing doesn’t happen on its own. Developers don’t necessarily just offer it and it takes a lot of subsidies to create.”

City Manager Tony Ramos explained that the housing element update was delayed due to other issues taking precedent, as well as citing a “lack of resources.”

“We’re hoping to have this moving forward early in the fall,” Mr. Ramos said.

Councilmember Joe Lyons asked if the non-compliance could lead to problems in the future. “I’m still not really clear on what is that risk. Is our decision-making at risk?” he asked.

With the delinquent housing element, Ms. Carvalho explained that any member of the public could try to stop the city from making zone changes, like Pomona College’s recent museum site request, or could stop the city from issuing building permits, thereby halting construction.

“I don’t believe that is where a judge would go. But I can’t guarantee that that would be the outcome, because it would be an issue of first impression,” she said. Ms. Carvalho explained that cities who are taken to court over a non-compliant housing element generally already have a sordid history of denying low-income housing or have outright refused to do the update.

The subject of a covenant—an agreement between the city and the Colleges to keep the surrounding college-owned buildings standing “in perpetuity as they are,” according to Mr. Nasiali—was addressed.

Both sides had agreed to a covenant during the May 24 council meeting that aims to preserve a cluster of college-owned houses north of Shelton Park on Harvard Avenue, as well as the three large Victorians south of Second Street on?College Avenue. Approval of the Pomona College Master Plan is conditional on the college agreeing to the covenants, according to Mr. Nasiali.

Resident Mary Stoddard implored the council to come up with a new zoning designation as opposed to a covenant. “I really don’t believe in these covenants. I believe in zoning,” she said. “If you get a good zoning for that area, everyone will understand that. They won’t understand covenants. They’ll fight it and we’ll lose those buildings.”

Mr. Nasiali noted that zones can be changed and said having a covenant that is enforceable is preferable.

The second reading of the zone change passed with a 3-2 vote, with Mr. Pedroza, Mr. Lyons and Mr. Nasiali voting in favor and Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Calaycay voting against.

On Tuesday, the council also adopted the operating and capital improvement program budget for 2016-18. A full report on this as well as a report on expenditures from the Landscape and Lighting District fund will appear in next Friday’s edition of the COURIER.

—Matthew Bramlett



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