Thursday, June 27, 2002
Affordable Housing Plan Moves Torward Supes Even as civic leaders and developers stew over Congressman Sam Farr''s strong-arm method of ensuring 50 percent affordable housing on Fort Ord, another significant rule requiring reasonably priced housing is quietly taking shape.
As the rule, called the inclusionary housing ordinance, currently stands, 15 percent of all new housing units in the county must be affordable to moderate-income households. County planning staff, in the first version of the new General Plan, upped that figure to 20 percent. And the subcommittee charged with making recommendations on the final version of the ordinance would like to see that number reach 40 percent.
On Wednesday, after the Weekly''s deadline, the Planning Commission will either adopt or reject the subcommittee''s 40 percent target figure and, in turn, advise the Board of Supervisors on the matter. If the Board ultimately approves the recommendation, almost half the houses built in the county over the next 20 years will be affordable to households with moderate and lower incomes.
Subcommittee member Sharon Parsons says it all started with a convincing presentation by Alfred Diaz-Infante, President of the non-profit Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association (CHISPA), during May''s lengthy public testimony hearings.
"The subcommittee was very much influenced by Alfred Diaz-Infante," she says. "And he said it was doable. Other people tell us we can''t do that, but I haven''t seen any figures to dissuade me that it''s possible."
Under Diaz-Infante''s plan, 10 percent of new homes would be affordable to very-low-income households, another 15 percent would be designated for low-income families and 15 percent would be affordable for moderate-income families. (Currently the salary caps for those categories are $21,525, $34,440 and $51,660, respectively.)
Noting that households in those three categories make up 66 percent of the county''s population, Diaz says, "If you''re going to truly address the housing need and make it affordable, you can''t ignore that."
The pragmatic Diaz-Infante, who holds an MBA, has kept developers'' interests in mind. "We also need to implement a streamlined process for approval of subdivisions," he says. "I think you''ll find more developers willing to accept a higher percentage of affordable housing if their application process were much faster, if they''re not left out there hanging for 10, 15 years."
In addition, Diaz-Infante mentions a state law which allows for higher-than-usual densities-and therefore savings in land costs-if developers make a certain percentage of their houses affordable.
Diaz-Infante says CHISPA has proof that his plan can work and not put developers out of business.
"We have a program with no subsidies that is selling houses for $210,000-$225,000. There''s still money in that transaction that allows us to cover our overhead and so forth-in other words, we''re not losing money. They''re not huge homes, though, either. They''re 1,300 to 1,400 square feet."
Parsons says modest expectations are key to success in the 40-percent-affordable scenario. "It has to do with what kind of houses the 40 percent are going to be," she says. "Is it going to be a little house with a front yard and a back yard? No, it''s not. And some people think that''s the American Dream, but we can''t do that. We''re Monterey County."
Parsons knows that adopting 40 percent affordable housing as a goal could make waves. The commissioners have already heard many protests by land use attorneys against it, and will again if they pass it.
However, she says, "We have to make our recommendations in terms of people who are 10 years old now and will be 20 or 30 when this plan is in use. It''s a cliche, but there''s a big silent majority out there."
Utility Tax Ban Produces More Nightmare Scenarios
If Salinas voters repeal the utility tax, expect $8 million in cuts to city programs and services, says Salinas City Manager Dave Mora, in a report released June 24.
"The amount of the reductions...is not debatable," Mora writes. "There will be no revenue to offset the expenditures."
And it will hurt, Mora says.
Mora''s proposal would shut down two of the city''s three libraries, all six of its recreation centers and the city pool. It would eliminate the police department''s narcotics and vice squad, the school crossing guards and school resource officers. It would cut the city''s paramedic and emergency medical services, and the fire prevention program.
Eighty-one city employees would likely lose their jobs.
Additionally, the city''s current $431 per-person spending would be reduced to $375. For comparison, Monterey spends $1,442.83 per person.
"Can anyone honestly say that a loss of $56 for every city resident will not lead to a reduction in services and programs?" Mora asks. "Without taxes, there are no services. If taxes are eliminated, the services provided by those taxes must be eliminated.
"With $8 million less revenue, the quality of life for Salinas residents will be reduced."
The League of United Latin American Citizens joined the fight to keep the utility tax on June 24, holding a press conference in front of the Cesar E. Chavez Library-one of the two slated for closure if voters repeal the tax.
"The U.S. Census has already indicated that the population is Salinas is going to increase steadily in the next 10 years," says LULAC President Aurelio Salazar, Jr. "Affordable Housing, Public Safety, and approval of the General Plan next year will be affected by the repeal. This is not the way we should be trying to save tax payers money."
Foundation Protects Estuary
The Elkhorn Slough Foundation plans to double the amount of land it protects-from roughly 2,000 acres to more than 4,000 acres.
"We''re looking over the course of the next three to five years at investing as much as $20 million in the protection of the Elkhorn Slough," says Mark Silberstein, the Foundation''s executive director.
Silberstein said the foundation is currently in negotiations with local landowners to purchase 1,000 acres of land (four purchases total) around the Slough.
"The owners contacted us because they were interested in protecting the lands," he says. He expects to buy the land within a year.
"The community has really responded to the tradition of protecting this area-what we know to be a really unique and important place," he says.
-Traci Hukill, Jessica Lyons