City works to cure non-compliance on housing element update

Claremont’s outdated housing element got one step closer to becoming a thing of the past Tuesday night.

The city planning commission voted 6-1 to send the draft housing element to the state for review, hopefully ending a more than two-year period of non-compliance.

The housing element is a complicated but necessary component of the city’s general plan. The state requires cities to essentially show they have the open space and zoning available for certain income-level housing—including above moderate, moderate, low and very low income—available for building.

“We’re not actually required to produce housing, we’re required to accommodate it through zoning,” Director of Community Development Brian Desatnik said.

Claremont has been out of compliance with its housing element since February 2014, which could present a problem for the city. City Attorney Sonia Carvalho told the city council in a June meeting that with an outdated housing element, anyone could file a lawsuit to put a freeze on the city issuing building permits.

Claremont is required to show the state it has appropriate land and zoning to provide 152 above-moderate income units, 64 moderate-income units, 59 low-income, 49 very-low-income and 49 extremely-low-income units.

Mr. Desatnik explained to the commission that current and future development has allowed Claremont to meet its goal for above-moderate and moderate housing. A lot on Harrison and Cambridge fulfills 18 low-income housing units, leaving the city to find open space to show the state that, if mandated, it could build 139 more low-income units.

The state formula says Claremont can use a density of 23 units per acre.

One lot has stood out during the selection process—the former golf course on Indian Hill Boulevard that is owned by the Claremont University Consortium. Mr. Desatnik explained that 6.5 acres in the top left corner of the lot, which used to house the parking lot and driving range, is enough room to fulfill the remaining low-income requirement, and has the best chance to be accepted by the state.

The city has no near or distant plans for a low-income housing project. This process is merely to fulfill a state requirement that cities show it has some open land to provide low-income units.

“We think the state would have a much easier time approving that site than if we tried to designate the whole 31 acres, which wasn’t needed anyway to meet the requirement,” he said.

Another site near Foothill Boulevard and Monte Vista Avenue was tagged as a possible location during the November 17 joint city council and planning commission meeting, but Mr. Desatnik explained that a land-use plan adopted by Cable Airport doesn’t allow residential use around the airport.

The golf course site is already zoned Institutional-Educational as it’s part of the Claremont Colleges, but Mr. Desatnik said placing a high-density residential zone overlay on the area would meet the state requirement.

The requirement calls for land that is unrestrained by a conditional use permit (CUP), which the city could get around with the zoning overlay on the golf course.

“We’re actually not removing the [CUP], we’re just putting the overlay on it so it becomes a permitted use if it meets the overlay requirements,” Mr. Desatnik said.

During public comment Ellen Taylor, speaking on behalf of the League of Women Voters, advocated for low-income housing but also admonished the city for being late on adopting the housing element.

“I have to say, we are somewhat disappointed that the city’s housing element has not been kept current, because that is a mandatory regulation from the state,” she said.

Bill Dow, who lives on Via Zurita near the golf course, was concerned about traffic should the housing be built.

“We only have 21 families living on the block. If we’re going to add 130 or 140 more families, that’s 250 cars getting out between 7:30 a.m. and a quarter to 8,” Mr. Dow said. “It’s unacceptable.”

The commission was torn about the draft, with commissioner James Jackson calling it an “exercise in bureaucracy” and commissioner Cynthia Humes branding it an “exercise in futility,” expressing skepticism with putting all potential low-income housing on land owned by the CUC.

The lone opposing vote came from commissioner Rick Reed, who expressed frustration with the process and outlined another parcel of land, near the corner of Miramar and Forbes, that was roughly the same size and unrestrained by an existing zone.

“I’m just really confused and don’t understand how we do the zoning but yet tell the public we’re not going to build there,” Mr. Reed said. “We do it to satisfy the state. It doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not really in favor of it and I won’t be voting for it.”

Commissioner K.M. Williamson was pleased with the golf course site and noted that a lot of work has gone into preparing the draft.

“I’m very comfortable with what staff has presented to us,” she said.

The commission was in favor of the element 6-1, with Mr. Reed opposing. The next step, according to Mr. Desatnik, is to send the housing element for review to the State Housing and Community Development Department. The state has 90 days to make a decision.

The planning commission also unanimously elected Richard Rosenbluth as the new chair and Doug Lyon as vice chair.

—Matthew Bramlett


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