Lower inclusionary requirements, more concessions to developers and deed-restricted second units were topics of discussion at Monday’s Goleta Planning Commission meeting, as planners took a stab at revising the General Plan’s Housing Element. The meeting was part of the city’s latest attempt to get its housing plans approved by the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

“I have never in my life experienced a bigger elephant in a darker room with more people trying to figure out what it is,” said Planning Commissioner Ed Easton, referring to the convoluted nature of state law vs. local housing requirements.

Arguably among the most controversial elements for the housing-crunched community, the Housing Element has been sent back by Sacramento more than once for revision. While Goleta is not required to certify its housing element with the state agency, lack of certification gives the city significantly less legal standing and opens it up to litigation over its housing plans. Monday’s meeting was concentrated on HCD’s latest comments regarding the Housing Element.

According to city Planning Manager Anne Wells, HCD is requesting information about Goleta’s methods of providing state-mandated affordable housing — a network of policies and programs meant to encourage housing for lower-income households. The agency needed more explanation, she said.

“They’re asking for specificity in addressing affordable housing sites and potential government constraints,” she said.

One of the most significant changes — dealing with perhaps one of the biggest bones of contention between city policy and local developers and housing advocates — was the elimination of the 55 percent inclusionary policy for sites along the Hollister Avenue corridor. Authored by the considerably more slow-growth inaugural City Council, the 55 percent inclusionary policy was meant to concentrate affordable housing along the city’s main transit artery while satisfying state-mandated requirements for housing for very low-, low- and moderate-income families.

Developers and housing advocates, however, saw the inclusionary percentage as infeasible, saying that to make more than half of their developments affordable would put a considerable burden on the market-rate units to carry the cost of the development. Bottom line, they said, no one would want to buy a market-rate home in such a development, and thus no housing — affordable or market-rate — could be built.

On Monday, the commission voted on a uniform citywide inclusionary policy of 20 percent — a number less onerous for developers to deal with, but also less than what was intended when the city rezoned mid-Hollister properties to residential from industrial in 2006.  According to Wells, the idea at the time of the rezoning was that the resulting windfall to land owners from the upzone would make it possible for developers to cover the cost of the 55 percent inclusionary figure. HCD, however, did not take that issue into account.

The proposed 20 percent inclusionary policy covers a wider range of income than most such policies in other cities. Aside from its 5 percent very low-, 5 percent low- and 5 percent moderate-income affordable housing requirements, it requires that an additional 5 percent of development go to workforce housing — an income group was defined to earn 120 percent to 150 percent of area median income, like teachers, firefighters and nurses. The upper limit was raised to 200 percent Monday evening.

The commission also took a closer look at adding more incentives for affordable housing, such as density bonuses and modifications in zoning requirements, to encourage developers to put more affordable housing in the works. The commission also supported expediting the process for that kind of project, so developers could tell earlier in the process if their plans would be approved.

For new single-family homes of more than 3,000 square feet in size, a second unit on the lot might be an alternative to impact fees. The additional unit would open to very low- to moderate-income households or a relative of the family in the main house.

And, although the commissioners were not in complete agreement, the panel also approved a 5 percent inclusionary policy on multifamily rentals. It is not a common practice to impose inclusionary rates on apartments, as rentals are automatically considered affordable. Opinion was divided on the commission as to whether the policy would encourage affordability or prove to be a disincentive.

“But we won’t know until we have a developer who might be willing to work under those conditions,” commission chairman Ken Knight said.

The commission will make its recommendations to the City Council in the near future. If all goes smoothly, the city might have HCD approval by the end of the year.