Planning commission votes to support city’s housing element

Claremont is getting one step closer to freeing itself from the prison of housing element non-compliance.

The planning commission on Tuesday voted to recommend approval of a group of attachments that support the city’s housing element, with which Claremont has been out of compliance with the state since 2014.

The housing element is an integral part of a city’s general plan, as well as state law, that outlines city demographics, affordable housing programs and how many low-income units per income bracket the city has room for.

The city has wrestled with the housing element for years, dating back to 2012. A previous version of the element was sent to the state in January for review, but was returned because Claremont didn’t go into adequate detail about certain housing programs and when they would be implemented.

“I am standing on the shoulders of many, many planners before me, and this is our collective attempt to get this approved,” Assistant Planner Elaine Yang said to the planning commission during her presentation Tuesday.

After a public meeting in April, the element was re-submitted to the state for review. A letter sent back to the city from the California Department of Housing and Community Development noted the city had adequately met the state’s requirements.

All the housing element needs now is approval from the planning commission and the city council.

The meat of the housing element is the Real Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA. The RHNA is an allotted number of housing units among different income brackets given to each city to fulfill. The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) has given 373 of these units to Claremont—157 of which are low-, very-low and extremely-low-income housing.

But the trick is Claremont doesn’t have to build any additional units—they only have to show Sacramento they have the means and the room to do so.

To fulfill this lip service to the state, the city has focused on two sites that could potentially house lower income units: a 0.8 acre site at the intersection of Cambridge and Harrison Avenues, and seven acres of the former Claremont Golf Course currently owned by the Claremont University Consortium.

Since the golf course is zoned institutional-educational, the city has to permit a high-density residential overlay on top of the site to allow non-student and low-income units to be built, according to Ms. Yang. That also requires a city code amendment and a general plan amendment to be passed.

An addendum to the environmental impact report (EIR) also had to be created for the golf course site because it was not initially evaluated when the process began, Ms. Yang said.

While the golf course seems like an ideal location, residents should not expect housing to be built there in the foreseeable future—the CUC has stressed that the golf course site is being reserved for future development of the Colleges.

Frustration with the housing element process was palpable amongst some commissioners. Commissioner James Jackson cited a Los Angeles Times article which stated local cities have to spend money to fulfill the state requirement with virtually no accountability to build lower-income housing.

“So cities don’t have to be accountable for any of this,” Mr. Jackson said. “We just come up with a number and everyone walks around for eight years and then we come up with another number and nobody does anything about it at the extremely-low, very-low and low-income levels.”

Commissioner Rick Reed acknowledged there is a housing problem in California, but noted, “We’re not going to solve it tonight. So we need to get this behind us.”

The commission voted 6-1 in favor of the housing element package, with additional language in the staff report to the city council that suggests more lobbying needs to be done to SCAG as well as the state to find a better housing solution. Commissioner Doug Lyon, who initially suggested an amendment to the resolution to contact state representatives, was the only no vote.

The commission re-elected Richard Rosenbluth as chair, and elected Leigh Anne Jones as vice chair.

—Matthew Bramlett


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