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Goleta Makes Progress on Housing Element Revisions

Council nixes staff, Planning Commission recommendations and increases Hollister corridor's inclusionary requirement.

Discussions over developer incentives, state density bonus law, and the return of an increased inclusionary requirement in the Hollister Avenue corridor marked Tuesday’s Goleta City Council meeting, as council members tackled revisions to the Goleta General Plan’s Housing Element.

“The tone and input that we received today was very helpful in the discussions and solutions advanced,” Councilman Eric Onnen said in complimenting the several suggestions put forward by both the housing and development sector and slow growth-minded citizens.

Although no final decisions were made, the meeting was part of an ongoing effort to obtain state certification of Goleta’s Housing Element, by building upon staff and Planning Commission recommendations.

Adopted in October 2006, the Housing Element is one of the most contentious elements in Goleta’s General Plan, as it tries to strike a balance between state-mandated affordable housing requirements and local vision for the community. The state Department of Housing and Community Development, unsatisfied with Goleta’s attempts to allocate such housing in the past, has refused to certify the city’s housing element. Although it is not technically required for HCD to certify the document, lack of certification leaves the city much more open to litigation.

Perhaps the biggest thing to come out of Tuesday evening’s meeting was the reappearance of an increased inclusionary requirement for housing sites along the Hollister corridor.

“I think we should have a higher inclusionary rate on those sites because we (the former council) upzoned them,” said Councilwoman Jean Blois, who made the motion, despite having expressed earlier support to remove the special designation of those sites in favor of a citywide 20 percent inclusionary policy.

The sites along the Hollister corridor were zoned up to residential from industrial to accommodate Goleta’s 2008 Regional Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA, quota for affordable housing — income levels that reach 120 percent of area median income. The assumption was that the increase in land value would grease the wheels toward a higher percentage of affordable housing in the area.

Developers and housing advocates balked at the 55 percent inclusionary requirement for the upzoned areas, however, saying the requirement canceled out any benefit the upzone might have provided. For its part, HCD has been skeptical of the concept, as well.

Slow-growth residents, meanwhile, worry that to reach the RHNA requirement with a lower inclusionary percentage would back the council into rezoning agricultural land like the Shelby property or Bishop Ranch, or increasing densities in existing neighborhoods.

“If we have a higher rate of affordables, that’s affordables we don’t have to build someplace else and rezone for elsewhere,” resident George Relles told the council.

“In the short and midterm, Goleta has the inventory,” said Steve Chase, the city’s Planning and Environmental Services director.

In the long term, he said, it is likely that the city may have to rezone for additional housing if California continues to mandate for housing. Goleta already has a new RHNA requirement for the next planning cycle of 1,641 units.

The Goleta Planning Commission, armed with the goal to get HCD’s acceptance of the housing element, recently voted to recommend a citywide 20 percent inclusionary policy, with an equal distribution of 5 percent toward the three affordable housing incomes — low, very low and moderate incomes — and an additional 5 percent for workforce housing.

The workforce category, or earners of 120 percent to 200 percent of area median income, is not considered an affordable housing category and not typically included in a city’s inclusionary rates, but is part of Goleta’s inclusionary rate because of the shortage of workforce housing in the area.

On a 3-2 vote Tuesday, with Onnen and Councilwoman Jonny Wallis in dissent, the council overturned the commission’s recommendation and instead implemented a 30 percent inclusionary policy for sites along the Hollister corridor. Five percent of the additional 10 percent would go to the low-income housing category and 5 percent would benefit the workforce.

Meanwhile, the council also voted to set the long-term affordability of inclusionary units to 45 and not less than 30 years, and to set in motion a system to monitor the compliance of those units over that term. They also grappled over encouraging affordable housing via incentives to developers, voting narrowly to approve staff recommendations to include flexibility in zoning requirements like parking modifications, setbacks and building dimensions for affordable housing projects, like small-scale rentals, that do not qualify or apply for them under state Density Bonus Law.

Other matters are to come back to the council with more information from staff, such as the applicability of the inclusionary rule to single-family homes larger than 3,000 square feet.

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