The San Marino City Council last week reversed course and removed Carver Elementary School and Del Mar Field from a draft of the city’s housing element that was released to the public late last month.
The inclusion of the two properties in the early version of the state-mandated document had raised concern among many community members who were caught off guard when the locations were listed as possible sites for future development.
But at a special council meeting on Aug. 3, both were removed from the draft. In fact, the city had announced the removal of Carver before the meeting, then voted to officially scrub Del Mar during the session at the San Marino Center.
“I think it was an error to [include the properties] in the first place,” said Councilwoman Gretchen Shepherd Romey while casting her vote. “We have heard loud and clear from our community.”
Mayor Ken Ude cast the only vote to keep Del Mar in play.
“I don’t want to take anything off the list until we know what is going to be on the list,” Ude said. “I think it’s a bad idea, but I want to take a breath and get the full picture.”
The decision came as a relief to San Marino Unified School District board President Shelley Ryan, who has vehemently opposed the inclusion of Carver and district-owned Del Mar from the moment she realized they had been placed in the draft housing element.
Appearing at the meeting in person, Ryan voiced her “strong opposition to the inclusion of any of our school district properties as part of the inventory of sites that could be re-developed in the foreseeable future.”
She added: “The law is very clear that the city’s draft housing element must include an inventory of sites that are suitable and available for residential development, including vacant sites and sites that have realistic and demonstrated potential for development. None of the school district properties meet these criteria and we will reiterate our request that Del Mar Field must be removed as well. Both sites are open and meeting the many needs of the community.”
Ryan also mentioned that Del Mar is used for American Youth Soccer Organization and San Marino National Little League and other community events; it’s also used regularly for San Marino High School athletics.
“Like Carver, the school board has taken no action toward its closure and is not considering doing so,” Ryan said. “Del Mar is active, thriving and has no realistic or demonstrated potential for redevelopment. These facts stand in direct contradiction to the information included in the housing element.”
The original deadline for the city to submit its final draft for state approval was Oct. 15, 2021, but Councilman Steve Talt suggested the city use a 120-day extension, which would extend the time limit to Feb. 12.
The housing element is one of seven sections of the city’s General Plan and the only one that requires an updating process every eight years; it shows that San Marino could, in theory, add a designated number of housing units. In November, it was announced that the city has been assigned an additional 397 residential units by 2029 through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation.
In short, California’s Department of Housing and Community Development comes up with a figure every eight years for how many residential units the state should collectively be able to permit developers and property owners to build. That number is broken up to arrive at a regional allocation — the RHNA — and sent to regional government associations that split up the number among their counties and cities.
The Southern California Association of Governments, which encompasses 191 cities in six counties, determined that San Marino should plan to accommodate a potential 149 units for very low-income residents, 91 each of low-income and moderate-income units, and 66 above-moderate-income units.
City Manager Marcella Marlowe reiterated that the city could not close Carver, Del Mar or any other property included in the housing element.
“The city is not required to construct additional housing units or issue building permits to meet the RHNA allocation,” Marlowe said. “The allocation is a planning goal, not a construction quota. The city of San Marino is required to evaluate land use patterns, development regulations and challenges, and identify potentially developable land through site analysis at the parcel level to demonstrate how the city plans to accommodate the city’s RHNA allocation. Any actual construction or request for permits is solely within the discretion of the property owner, not the city.”
Previously, the state did not impose penalties for an uncertified element; however, new state laws include monetary penalties for an uncertified element. Additionally, approval offers cities certain protections, including a presumption of adequate housing in lawsuits, protection from possible attorney general litigation and — an important consideration for local residents — the ability to maintain discretionary review over affordable housing projects.
San Marino achieved its first certified housing element in 2014 through a similar process, according to Aldo Cervantes, the city’s community development director. However, the city was required to identify fewer than 30 units of housing, a need that was easily met through accessory dwelling units, often referred to as “granny flats.”
“We are in compliance with the housing element,” said Cervantes at the meeting. “This one is more challenging.” He explained that the current housing element requirement of 397 residential units is spread out among several different income categories, including low income, which will be problematic in the San Marino market.
Shepherd Romey and Councilwoman Susan Jakubowski suggested the city sponsor a future town hall meeting to inform the public about the housing element and elicit feedback.