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Solvang wades through state affordable housing requirements, moves 4 options forward

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One parcel proposed for development to meet myriad state housing requirements went on the chopping block Monday, but four others remained in play as Solvang City Council members voted unanimously to approve the extensive Draft Housing Element to the General Plan.

The document will return to consultants for adjustments before being submitted to the state for review.

“Every jurisdiction in California right now is trying to catch up with the requirements of the state. So, really, all the changes in the sixth cycle are being driven by state law,” said Project Manager Ryan Lester of Mintier Harnish, the consulting firm contracted to develop the plan.

The draft element initially called for including five parcels for development to meet state housing requirements, but the council pared that down to four parcels by eliminating the 739-741 Alamo Pintado Road piece from the mix.

Remaining parcels include: 1999 Viborg, .6 acres with an 11-unit capacity; 5.48 acres with a capacity for 76 units west of the junction of Alamo Pintado Road and Village Lane to the northwest corner of Alamo Pintado Road at Old Mission Drive; and a 3.71-acre property with a 64-unit capacity west of Alisal Road bisected by Juniper Avenue.

The Housing Element is one of nine elements of the city’s General Plan, a state-required document which helps define the future direction of a city. The council had six weeks to consider the 263-page draft document and another 66 pages of public comment.

The year-long process of developing the element included a March 2022 community workshop on the Housing Element, the Spring 2022 Housing Needs Survey, May 2022 second community workshop, as well as the Summer 2022 Fair Housing Survey.

The Housing Element addresses the city’s efforts to meet housing needs over the next eight years before the planning tool is again revisited on a schedule prescribed by the state, Lester said. It identifies constraints to housing production, establishes goals, policies and programs to meet those needs, and updates city practices and regulations to reflect new state laws established since the last version was adopted in 2014-15.

Lester pointed out more than a dozen state laws now impacting every jurisdiction’s housing planning process and noted there were too many to list in his presentation.

“The point is just it’s a lot, there’s a lot, I mean maybe 10 bills on (accessory dwelling units) alone. I didn’t even list them all here. It is a lot to go through, so that’s really driving this update,” Lester said.

These laws, enacted in the decade since the last housing plan update, require local jurisdictions to take meaningful action to combat housing discrimination, eliminate racial bias, undo historic patterns of segregation, lift barriers that restrict access, and ultimately foster inclusive communities and achieve racial equity, fair housing choice and opportunities.

Consequences of failing to comply could include facing legal challenges to land use decisions, having to pay fines and fees, losing grant funding opportunities, facing court-mandated compliance requirements, losing local land use control, and/or facing court-ordered moratoriums on all permits.

Lester also pointed out the California Housing and Community Development office has added a new accountability unit that will pursue action against noncompliant jurisdictions. He said they would not be seeking out noncompliance, but would be “going after bad actors.”

Since 1969, California has required all cities and counties adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community. To that end, the state imposes its Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) on councils of government which then divvies those units between cities and counties under its purview.

In this planning cycle, Solvang’s RHNA requirement calls for the city to zone for and support development of 28 extremely-low, 27 very-low, and 39 low-income units as well as 22 moderate- and 75 above-moderate-income units for a total of 191 units. An even newer state law, Lester said, requires the city add another 20 percent in the very low- and low-income unit count.

He emphasized that while jurisdictions must plan for and takes steps that would allow for such development, it is not required to build. Actual development remains market driven.

Solvang is already chewing through the numbers with a track record of approving an average of eight accessory dwelling units per year. These units are considered sufficient to meet the required moderate-income housing numbers. In addition, there are 109 units already in the city’s planning and development pipeline, Lester said.

While the law cannot force a city to develop a site, it does encourage cities to incentivize development. Such efforts may include providing streamlined review, priority processing, reduce, defer or waive fees, provide incentives for ADU production, provide ADU plans, or partner with nonprofit developers to apply for various funding vehicles.

In other action, the council voted unanimously Monday to appoint several local citizens to a trio of advisory bodies to serve the two-year term ending Dec. 31, 2024.

Planning Commission appointees include Joan Jamieson, Justin Rodriguez, Aaron Petersen, Kief Adler, and Jack Williams.

Design Review Committee appointees are Esther Jacobsen Bates, Patrick Cavanaugh, Christopher Lapp, Jennifer Dryden Hess, and Maryvonne Martin.

And Tourism Advisory Committee appointees are Vashti Wilson, Tracy Beard, John Martino, V. Louise Smith, Kim Jensen, John Jukubek, and Alex Grenier.

The council also accepted the 2021-22 Annual Comprehensive Financial Report as presented by Mitesh Desai of Badawi & Associates, a Berkeley-based CPA firm. Desai reported the city’s fiscal health in terms of its general fund is “better than most of my clients.”

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