City growth and housing element remain hot topics

by Steven Felschundneff |

The city of Claremont, along with a team of advisors, held the second of three public meetings Monday evening to provide information and gather public input on the pending update to the city’s housing element.

Monday night’s meeting focused on the function of the Regional Housing Need Assessment (RHNA), often referred to as “reena,” and how it affects the housing element. The panel also examined some scenarios under which the city might meet its RHNA requirement.

The event was led by Rob Matthews, principal in the firm Housing Lavigne which is the lead consultant on the project. He was joined by Brian Sims, also a principal with Housing Lavigne; Veronica Tam, of Veronica Tam Associates, the strategic advisor for RHNA; and Lexi Jouney, an environmental planner with Rincon Consultants who is knowledgeable about public safety and environmental justice issues.

The Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which is mandated by state housing law, is a process that determines projected and existing housing needs for all jurisdictions in California, including unincorporated areas, to meet housing demand. Locally, the Southern California Association of Governments is responsible for allocating specific  numbers of units that each jurisdiction must account for in its housing element under RHNA.

“Communities use RHNA in land use planning, prioritizing local resource allocation, and in deciding how to address identified existing and future housing needs resulting from population, employment and household growth,” read a statement from the Southern California Association of Governments.

The current cycle is the sixth allocation of the housing element, which will cover the planning period from October 2021 through October 2029.

The sixth RHNA cycle methodology is very different in comparison to the fourth and fifth cycles, which only used projected household growth as the basis for a RHNA allocation and household income as the sole determinant of social equity.

The complete methodology for the sixth cycle is more intricate and the RHNA basis will include household growth, job accessibility and transit accessibility.

The social equity adjustment will be based on household income and access to resources including factors such as educational attainment, low income job access, reading proficiency and pollution levels.

Consequences for non-compliance with RHNA allocations include fines of $100,000 per month and ineligibility for state housing and infrastructure grants.

Community Services Director Brad Johnson said the current housing element update provides, “some monumental changes in the way we are to required look at housing elements now compared with the last 50 years, [including] huge challenges and hurdles, but also great opportunities to remake neighborhoods in the city.”

Claremont’s portion of the Southern California RHNA allocation is 1,707 homes, of which 553 need to be very low income, 308 low income and 296 moderate income units, in addition to market rate units. Neighboring cities have their own allocations including 5,673 units in Upland, 10,534 in Pomona and 1,343 in La Verne.

Under previous housing element updates, the city has done very well in building market rate homes, but has fallen short of building its share of affordable housing units. Claremont is not alone in this regard, building market rate homes tends to take care of itself, therefore the housing element can be viewed as a plan to preserve and build affordable housing.

December’s housing element meeting focused on identifying “opportunity sites” which can be underutilized tracts of land, particularly those near transit and, of course, open land. This has proven to be the most contentious part of the housing element planning for the public because it identifies actual locations where future housing could be built.

Several residents who spoke during public comment addressed the former La Puerta middle school site, with one person demanding it remain zoned public land, and another complaining about future development lowering his property values. Yet another caller recommended that high density, low cost housing be built at the La Puerta site.

Mr. Johnson clarified that La Puerta was not currently an opportunity site because Trumark Homes has an application pending to build homes on the site.

Claremont’s demographic reflects a community that is aging and has a large number of older people living alone. As a result, the housing element should examine whether the housing stock is suited to aging in place. In addition, whether there is housing suited for young families who would like to move here, effectively rebalancing the demographic, according to data presented by Ms. Tam.

Part of the city’s general plan, the housing element should accommodate projected housing demand; increase housing production to meet the demand; preserve existing affordable housing; improve the safety quality and condition of existing housing; facilitate the development of housing for all income levels and household types including special needs populations; and promote fair housing choice for all. Not surprising it’s also the most regulated part of the general plan.

When the city updates its housing element it must also update the public safety element and review environmental justice policies.

Business as usual won’t allow the city to reach RHNA targets, so that’s where other scenarios come into play, including centralized growth and distributed growth or some combination of the two, according to Mr. Matthews.

Centralized growth, just as it sounds, would concentrate growth largely in the Village area including Village South. This would include some parcels be rezoned to accommodate 60 units per acre. Hallmarks of centralized growth include more new housing near transit and other amenities such as restaurants, more efficient use of existing infrastructure and preservation of more industrial and commercial land.

Distributed growth would spread new development over a broader cross section of the city and parcels would be rezoned for 30 units instead of 60. This plan would also mean fewer homes near transit, less efficient use of existing infrastructure and would result in more industrial or commercial land would be developed for housing.

The panelists conducted two polls (which anyone can participate in at the city’s website) asking basic questions of the approximately 80 participants in the meeting. The first covered demographics: 60 percent of respondents lived in Claremont, and 35 percent both lived and worked in Claremont, while 79 percent were homeowners and 19 percent renters.

The second poll attacked some of the more substantial issues. For example, 44 percent said that new housing should be higher density and focused in specific areas with access to transit. Meanwhile, 42 percent said that new housing should be provided at various densities and locations through out the community.

In response to a question about zoning, 58 percent said it should focus more housing near services like jobs, shopping and transportation, while 48 percent said that zoning should promote more housing that blends into existing neighborhoods, and 37 percent said it should integrate with in existing development such as shopping centers. (Respondents were allowed to pick more than one answer.)

There will be one more public meeting in late February before a draft plan is written. After that there will be another opportunity for public input before the draft housing element is submitted to the state this summer. In October there will be an adoption hearing, after which the city will begin putting the approved plan into implementation.


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