City sends letter opposing housing development bill

Claremont city staff sent a letter to a state senator opposing a bill they say would undermine the city’s general plan.

Senate Bill 827, introduced by State Senator Scott Wiener on March 1, would exempt certain developers from local restrictions such as height limitations, densities, parking requirements and design review standards, according to the letter sent by City Manager Tara Schultz.

The idea behind SB 827 is to allow for more residential development along transit corridors and bus stops. Specifically, the bill allows developers to circumvent local rules within a half-mile of a “major transit stop” or a “high-quality transit corridor,” the city says.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Wiener sees the bill as a way to curb traffic, climate change and high housing costs.

But Claremont is not on board with the bill. In her letter, Ms. Schultz explains that it would undermine locally adopted general plans, housing elements and sustainable community strategies.

“Exempting large-scale developments from general plans, housing elements and zoning ordinances goes against the principles of local democracy and public engagement,” Ms. Schultz wrote. “Public hearings allow members of the community to inform their representative of their support or concerns when planning documents are developed.”

“Public engagement also often leads to better projects,” she added. “Disregarding such processes will increase public distrust in government and could lead to additional ballot measures dealing with growth management.”

Ms. Schultz emphasized in her letter that the bill could put the Real Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), a vital part of the housing element that includes allocated units of affordable housing, in jeopardy. SB 827, according to the city, “would provide developers a means to generate additional profits without any requirement to build affordable housing.”

Mayor Pro Tem Corey Calaycay remarked that the bill could have an impact on the current plans for Village South, which will be built along the railroad and future Gold Line tracks, and adjacent historical properties like the Vortox building.

“It’s important for the community to be aware of that, and perhaps write their own letters of concern,” he said.

Claremont is not the only city against the proposed bill. The Los Angeles city council voted unanimously, 14-0, in favor of a resolution against the bill on March 27, according to LA Streetsblog.

Turf reduction plans approved

The Claremont city council also approved what was initially planned to be a receive-and-file item on turf conversion plans for city parks.

The plans, as explained to the council by Deputy Director of Community Services Dave Roger, fall in line with state restrictions against having water spray onto hardscapes such as sidewalks, gutters and curbs.

This means any grass area that runs up against a sidewalk, curb or gutter would have to be removed in favor of more water-friendly landscape.

The city has already done a lot of work since the restrictions were put in place in 2014—turf grass was removed and the irrigation system was updated at College Park, the lawns in front of city hall and at Shelton Park were replaced with drought-tolerant landscape and the medians on North Indian Hill Boulevard were also updated.

Mr. Roger focused on four parks in his presentation—Wheeler, June Vail, Chaparral and Memorial parks. The overall plan is to convert the turf for all parks in Claremont.

At Wheeler Park, he suggested getting rid of the grass between the sidewalk and the monument sign in favor of a more drought-tolerant landscape, including Mexican salvia and native white sages.

“Can you imagine if the grass was gone and we went in and put in some flowering climate appropriate plant material,” Mr. Roger said. “I think that sign would just pop out.”

Similar plans were floated for Vail Park, Chaparral Park and Memorial Park, as Mr. Roger offered ideas on how to take out grass along sidewalks and curbs. The drought-tolerant landscaping would be separated just enough to allow pedestrians to walk through the area to get to the rest of the park.

The big question regarding this plan is funding. Mr. Roger explained to the council that the cost of doing this project across all parks in Claremont amounts to $1.50 to $2 per square foot—at 202,480 square feet of potential area to be converted, that amounts to a cost between $303,720 and $404,960.

There is currently no funding source,  but the city is looking for grants, Mr. Roger said. He also noted that overall, this plan would save the city some money, as lower maintenance costs will allow it to eliminate one employee position which would save money on the contract.

The entire turf conversion is expected to last a few years, Mr. Roger said in the staff report.

When Mayor Opanyi Nasiali asked about possible grants, Mr. Roger said they are looking at a couple of sources, including a turf conversion grant from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The council was in favor of approving the item, rather than keeping it receive-and-file. The idea was that approving it would give city staff impetus to look for more funding sources.

Mr. Nasiali made the motion to approve the item, subject to the availability of funding.

“I think this is a great idea,” he said, adding that the motion to approve is a way of “thinking forward and planning things so we can save money and have a more beautiful city.”

The motion passed unanimously. The next city council meeting will take place on April 10.

—Matthew Bramlett


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