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City should reconsider zoning overlay for low-income housing

by Karen Hanna-Towne

Claremont is in the process of placing zoning overlays on parcels in order to comply with the state-mandated allocation of lands for low-income housing.

The Southern California Association of Governments has given Claremont a goal of 157 low-income units, and the city has been engaged in deliberations for over a year. Many documents have been prepared and meetings held. Parcels 3, 11 and 30 have been ranked highest for all the units.

While my comments are primarily about Parcel 11, some comments apply to all three. Parcel 11 is scheduled to have 101 apartment units and this is the site on Mills Avenue across from Chaparral School that is owned and operated by Golden State Water for water production and distribution.

My concerns focus on water security during this drought and supporting goals established in the city’s General Plan for a) protection of neighborhood character and integrity, b) reducing traffic at elementary schools, and c) dispersing high-density housing across the city. The current proposal seems to defy all these principles and thus a number of questions arise.

1. Southern California is served by aqueducts carrying water from the Sacramento Delta, the Sierra snowpack and the Colorado River. All three are under threat and the governor has declared an official drought. Our local wells are quite likely our most dependable source of water in an emergency. We need our wells for emergency drinking water and firefighting. Why would the city impair operational access to these wells and pumps and compromise the ground water quality at Parcel 11?

2. There appear to be some inconsistencies in the site selection process. Parcel 25 was eliminated because it “has significant commercial potential.” Other parcels under consideration are zoned commercial or have this potential and they were not eliminated. At 48.9 acres, Parcel 25 is large enough for housing, commercial use and a future police station. This is confusing.

3. When the planning commission met on January 7, the audience was told that “it’s just an overlay, these won’t be built anytime soon,” and “with the demise of the redevelopment agencies there isn’t much funding for this type of housing.” Phone calls to other cities reveal that there is currently a lot of funding for low-income housing. Were we being misled? If it’s just an overlay that could be relocated later, why not put it on a parcel that the city already owns, such as Parcel 25?

4. The overlay on Parcel 11 calls for 23 units per acre instead of the allowable 30 units per acre. Of the 5.9 acres, 4.4 would be developed and the lower rate yields 101 units, not 132. It turns out that 101 units is a threshold for low-income developments; more than this triggers a full CEQA review. This project would be exempt from any further reviews or public input. There would be no further input on building heights, parking requirements, traffic increases, noise, wildlife or trees. That’s really dangerous.

5. This large number of units in one location (64 percent of the total) does not meet any of the city’s General Plan goals noted above for traffic reduction at schools, protecting neighborhood character or integrity or dispersing high-density developments.

6. In the 10 years I’ve lived here, there have been two high-density developments. During 2013 alone, while this selection process was underway, seven of the highly ranked sites were sold for development of market-rate housing. Is that normal?

7. The State Housing Element Law does not require deadlines for construction, just designation of lands. On January 7, we were also told that 101 units were needed “to make this work,” presumably for a developer. If a number of small developments were proposed instead perhaps small, local developers could be involved and profits might not need to be so great.

8. Finally, it is my belief that low-income people do not want to live in large developments. They, as well as the existing residents, would be much happier with smaller developments: 10 to 20 units maximum. If instead of large developments, the city followed its principle of dispersing them at say eight or 10 locations, it would be much more likely that neighborhood integrity would be preserved and traffic increases would be minimal. This should be the goal of the site selection process, not keeping the developers happy.

Low-income people need housing. It is the task of the city to provide reasonable solutions for them as well as for the current residents. Delaying approval of these zoning overlays has a small penalty: it would result in a four-year cycle for our Housing Element instead of eight. With the rate of growth currently underway, with 694 new units coming available this year, we need a review sooner rather than later.

Please attend the city council meeting on this issue on January 28.


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