First published in the Sept. 30 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
The San Marino City Council decided during a special meeting last Friday to hold off on submitting the housing element of the city’s General Plan for state approval.
The deadline to submit a draft of the document — which shows that the municipality potentially could add a certain number of housing units — to the California Department of Housing and Community Development is Oct. 15, and the state in turn commences a 60-day review. Then the city has an additional 60 days to address comments or changes suggested by the department.
This grace period allows the city to submit a housing element consistent with local preferences and state requirements. The city would have until Feb. 15 to complete the process, though going beyond that date could have repercussions. For example, the city might be placed on a four-year cycle for going through the process, rather than the usual eight years.
“This will be our Valentine’s present to the state Legislature,” quipped Councilwoman Gretchen Shepherd Romey during discussion of the matter.
The council also voted on several items related to the housing element, and in doing so unanimously directed city staff and consultants to strike any use of the term “mixed-use” or references to any active projects that include mixed use in identifying the necessary number of housing units.
The council voted 3-0 to remove San Marino Community Church, its parking lots and associated properties from the document and also adjusted the percentage of project units that would fall under the category of affordable to low income and low income to moderate income to 50%
Because they reside less than 1,000 feet from the church, Mayor Ken Ude and Councilman Steve Talt recused themselves from discussing and voting on that item.
It will still be a race to the finish line to complete the job by mid-February. The council does not have a scheduled meeting until Oct. 13, and the state requires up to 60 days to review the draft document and provide comments.
The housing element must also be approved by the San Marino Planning Commission before its final submission.
The state housing department comes up with a figure every eight years for additional housing units that are needed to accommodate anticipated population growth and existing challenges, such as overcrowding and high housing cost. That number is broken up into regional allocations based on the Regional Housing Needs Assessment in a process established by state law.
The Southern California Association of Governments then further divides the number among the 191 cities in six counties it serves. This year, SCAG determined that San Marino should plan to accommodate 397 units, including 149 units for very low-income residents, 91 each of low-income and moderate-income units, and 66 above-moderate-income units.
These units don’t necessarily need to be built; rather, the city’s goal is to modify its land-use policies merely to accommodate the units for all income levels and thus attain certification from the state. The city is required to demonstrate that it is making policies and objectives within its General Plan and Housing Element to allow this number of dwellings to be built, given a perfect scenario with no outside constraints.
The state requires each city to make plans to accommodate that growth, which may or may not happen. Each city must identify programs and policies in its housing element to allow that potential growth for the projected housing needs.
“The allocation is a planning goal, not a construction quota,” said City Manager Marcella Marlowe at a previous meeting regarding the housing element. “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 laws include monetary penalties. Approval also 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. 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 or in-law suites.
California law requires each city to adopt a comprehensive General Plan comprehensive, a long-term plan — typically 20-25 years — for its physical development. San Marino’s General Plan consists of the following element: land use, housing, circulation, community services, natural resources and safety. State law further mandates that the housing element be updated every eight years.
The city’s current housing element, which has spanned from 2013 through this year, was its first certified such element and met and exceeded its housing unit projections for the period — 17 units. It accomplished both element certification and meeting the allocation through the identification of accessory dwelling units.