ANTI-SPRAWL PLAN LIVES
Judge orders new hearing for General Plan Initiative.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
General Plan Initiative supporters won a victory last week when the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a federal judge to rehear a lawsuit challenging the anti-sprawl ballot measure.
Chris Fitz of LandWatch—a group supporting the slow-growth plan—said County Supervisors should immediately move to allow the public to vote on the plan.
In January, LandWatch and other community groups succeeded in gathering enough signatures to qualify the General Plan Initiative for a vote. But the Supervisors refused to put it on the ballot, citing a lawsuit that argued the initiative violated the Voting Rights Act because it was not translated into Spanish.
Several recent court decisions, including last week’s 9th Circuit Court Order, seemed to reject that argument.
“If the Board of Supervisors had any integrity, they would schedule this initiative for the ballot,” Fitz said this week.
It’s not that simple, says Assistant County Counsel Leroy Blankenship.
If the Supes were to call a special election, the plaintiffs who filed the Voting Rights Act lawsuit would likely ask the court to stop the election, Blankenship says.
“Judge Ware can reaffirm his earlier decision or change it,” Blankenship says, refering to the federal judge who ruled in March that the intiative was invalid. “The LandWatch group would like for him to completely reverse his decision. The language minority plaintiffs would clearly like for him to reaffirm his decision.
“The County just wants a decision so that we can decide how to proceed.
“Why schedule a special election, run up more costs and more lawsuits, when we are going to get a decision from the court fairly soon?”
Attorney Fredric Woocher, who represents the initiative proponents, disagrees.
“[The Supervisors] violated state election law when they refused to put it on the ballot,” he says. “The courts are clear that the appropriate remedy is to put it on the next available ballot or call a special election.”
When asked about charges that County Supervisors simply don’t want to see the anti-sprawl ballot measure put to a vote, Blankenship says: “That perception has been created by the news media, absolutely. That’s extraordinarily regrettable.”
Meanwhile, the County soldiers on with its own pro-growth General Plan Update 4 (GPU4). At a public hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 21, Supervisors continued to review GPU4’s dozens of proposed land-use policies. While they didn’t make any final decisions, it was not difficult to tell which way the Supes are leaning on some key issues.
Talk last Tuesday focused on affordable housing.
In October, the Planning Commission had added language to GPU4 designed to boost affordable housing stock in so-called “Rural Centers” and “Community Areas”—the places where future development will be allowed to occur.
The draft document contained specific requirements for “inclusionary” and “workforce” housing—planning jargon for homes designed for poor or working people.
“Developments in Rural Centers…must meet a minimum requirement of 25 percent inclusionary, 10 percent workforce [housing] for projects of five or more units to be considered,” it reads. Outside of a Community Area or Rural Center, 30 percent inclusionary and 20 percent workforce housing would be required.
But while the members of the Planning Commission saw the need for affordable homes, Supervisors indicated that they do not. At the Nov. 21 meeting, Supervisor Lou Calcagno said he had a problem with the policy about affordable housing in Rural Centers.
“That looks like it could be very difficult to work, and financially we might get nothing built,” he said.
Supervisor Jerry Smith agreed with Calcagno. He reported that four years ago, when he was chair of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority board, a study determined that it was next to impossible to make a big percentage of housing on the former Army base affordable. “There are certain levels that are not attainable,” Smith said.
Smith was referring to a plan submitted in 2002 by Rep. Sam Farr that called for 50 percent of new housing built on Fort Ord to be priced below $275,000. Farr, along with the County Housing Authority, released a report that contradicted those saying affordable housing here is impossible.
Using information gathered from developers, builders and others, the report found that at that time, a 1,300-square foot house with three bedrooms and two baths could be built for $226,000 on the Peninsula and $180,000 in Salinas. The report showed that the same house could be built on Fort Ord land for $145,000.
Smith stridently fought Farr’s proposal. In the case of Seaside’s largest housing project ever, the 380-home Seaside Highlands, not one home was priced below $525,000.
There is evidence that it is still possible to build homes that average working people can afford. In Salinas, developers are required to make at least 20 percent of the homes they build affordable to low-income residents. The ordinance also provides incentives to developers who build a higher percentage of affordable homes, and makes it easier for developers who build as much as 35 percent affordable.
SUPERVISORS WILL CONTINUE TO DISCUSS THE GPU4 AT 9:30AM on TUESDAY, DEC. 5, AND 1:30PM on DEC. 6 IN THE SUPERVISORS’ CHAMBERS, 168 W. ALISAL ST., SALINAS.