UKIAH, 5/14/2017 — The Board of Supervisors General Government committee met Monday, May 8 to discuss two housing matters that will come before the full board next week as a single item. Both matters are timely, in light of a proposed housing development on Lovers Lane just north of Ukiah and a recent memo that appears to provide for building additional dwelling units in the coastal zone. Two members of the public, a housing advocate who is the former managing attorney for Legal Services of Northern California, and an architect who does not support the proposed Lovers Lane development, spoke to the committee about their views. The General Government Committee is made up of Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde and First District Supervisor Carre Brown.
The proposed development, to be called Vineyard Crossings, would consist of 121 residential parcels on 24 acres of what is now zoned agricultural land. In 2009, Mendocino County adopted an inclusionary housing ordinance, which requires that new, market-rate residential subdivisions of five units or more include affordable housing units or pay a fee, which the county is supposed to use to fund affordable housing projects.
Another strategy for increasing residential properties is making it easier for homeowners to build additional dwelling units, or ADUs. With the passage of California’s AB 2299 on January 1 of this year, cities and counties are required to craft local ordinances that would allow ADUs to be built with ministerial, nondiscretionary approval, rather than undergoing a permit process. The units may be located within an existing structure, or stand alone on the same parcel as the main residence. Municipalities may not craft an ordinance that is more restrictive than the specifications laid out in the new state law.
Lisa Hillegas, a Ukiah attorney who sued the county for its failure to adhere to the inclusionary housing ordinance, spoke about the opportunity she sees in the proposed development outside Ukiah. She said she was “excited that we may be able to get some affordable housing in the community,” and encouraged the county to “stand its ground” against developers’ claims that building affordable units would make the project too costly to build. In an interview she said, “Everyone makes that argument and it rarely happens.” She added that in her research as the managing attorney for Legal Services, which advocates for the civil rights of poor people, she found that an inclusionary housing ordinance is, “one of the most successful tools for a community to actually get the housing built.”
County CEO Carmel Angelo said she planned to meet with the developers and their attorneys the day after the meeting, and suggested the possibility of “waiving the inclusionary ordinance.” Hillegas pointed out that “They can’t waive the inclusionary zoning ordinance. It’s an ordinance. It’s a law.” However, there are alternatives, such as partnering with another developer to build affordable units elsewhere. Adrienne Thompson, of the county’s Planning and Building Services, suggested the possibility that Rural Communities Housing Development Corporation, a non-profit developer, might get involved in such an arrangement. RCHDC is currently building a 42-unit apartment complex for senior citizens near the Sun House Museum in central Ukiah.
Alan Nicholson, a local architect, also spoke to the committee about the Lovers Lane proposal. He provided a handout detailing why he believes the development would be ill-suited to Mendocino County. While the board could grant the project a waiver that would allow it to go forward on agricultural land, he said after the meeting that he believes “They’d be hard-pressed to come up with three overriding considerations to grant an exception” that would allow residential development on land that is now a vineyard. In his handout, he wrote that the proposed residential property “is at the bottom slope for drainage and downwind from the remaining 120 acres of vineyard land, and will be subject to pollution from farming on the best of days.”
Nicholson suggested alternatives to the Lovers Lane proposal, including a 46-acre, 197-unit residential subdivision called Garden’s Gate, which was approved for the south end of Ukiah in 2009. That project was never built, probably a result of the housing market crash, but Nicholson told the board the property is now for sale. The plans included 36 units for moderate and low-income housing. However, affordable housing, according to Hillegas, is a legal definition, meaning that tenants do not pay more than 30 to 35 percent of their gross income for housing. Garden’s Gate was planned in 2005, before the inclusionary housing ordinance was adopted, and does not include units that meet its requirements.
Additional Dwelling Units
The General Government committee is likely to become the board’s ad hoc committee for crafting a county ordinance regulating additional dwelling units, including in the coastal zone.
Gjerde, whose district includes land that is subject to the strict requirements of the California Coastal Commission, told the committee that a recent memo indicates that homeowners may be allowed to build some ADUs without a permit. The county’s current coastal plan does not allow for new ADUs, though Gjerde acknowledged the possibility that such things may have happened without the benefit of a permit.
The memo, dated April 18, 2017, is from the executive director of the California Coastal Commission, John Ainsworth. Ainsworth recommends that local governments amend their local coastal plans to “reconcile Coastal Act requirements with the ADU statutes.” Gjerde said that in a recent conversation, Ainsworth told him that that the state average for approving single-issue amendments is 77 days. Gjerde referred to the years-long attempt to amend the local coastal plan for the town of Mendocino when he said, “that has not been the experience here in Mendocino County working with the Arcata office, but you never know. Maybe this will be our first 77-day LCP amendment.”
Ainsworth’s memo states that improvements to single-family dwellings that do not involve major structural changes “are generally exempt from Coastal Act permitting regulations,” as long as they do not threaten sensitive habitats. These improvements must take place within the existing structure, or be directly attached to it. If the ADU does not fall into the category of exempt improvements, the county can waive the requirement for a permit, as long as the local coastal plan amendment includes provisions for a waiver. Detached ADUs in non-sensitive habitats could be subject to a permit waiver.
Gjerde proposed a series of meetings with the full board of supervisors, county planning staff, and Coastal Commission staff to draft an amendment to the local coastal plan, and then come up with an ADU ordinance that would eventually be applicable county-wide. Brown agreed that the subject of ADUs across the county “is very important,” especially units for live-in caregivers attending to the aging population.
The county recently hired a new planner who will be dedicated to housing issues, though that planner was in an orientation during the meeting and was not available to offer input.
Because Gjerde also raised questions about requiring large new subdivisions to include ADUs in their plans, the two items from the General Government committee will be taken up by the full board this coming week.
Sarah Reith firstname.lastname@example.org