Is This the True Intent of the New LUE?

Fifteen new housing bills have been passed by Sacramento this year and signed by Governor Brown as have been various other housing bills within the last couple of years and more housing bills are pending for approval in the next legislative session. The housing bills passed this year go into effect on January 1, 2018. If the proposed LUE is approved, it will create residentially zoned areas throughout the city where developers can build increased density buildings and under certain conditions, with no parking. SB 35 allows for streamlined permits and once permits are issued, the developments can’t be stopped. The combination of these new bills along with a new LUE will drastically change the future livability of Long Beach.

Per state law, to move low to moderate income level residents in order to convert or demolish housing located in the coastal zone, alternative housing must be provided. Per state law, the location of this alternative housing must be in the coastal zone or three miles from the coastal zone, basically from the coast to four miles inland. One of the most noticeable aspects of the proposed LUE is the major increased density located in the vicinity of the traffic circle. The traffic circle is comfortably within that four mile distance.

Therefore, I am concerned that one of the underlying intents is to move low and moderate income people from the more valuable land located close to downtown, and close to the coast, to the traffic circle area and into “stack and packs.” Long Beach is currently one of the last cities where affordable housing is located close to the coast. There’s also an ongoing study to explore the possibility of removing the Port breakwater. The downtown and coastal land would become even more valuable if the Port breakwater is removed which will bring back waves and high quality surfing to the area.

Anecdotally, in what could be an indication of these plans, I have a family friend who lives at 8th and Atlantic and whose family has lived there for at least the last fifteen years since we’ve know them. She tells me that some of the apartment buildings in that area have been sold and there are major increases to the rents resulting in many residents moving out. Her rent has increased considerably but is now grandfathered in until all the vacancies in the building are filled. Numerous vacancies have remained due to the high rent amount requested for new tenants so they believe they can remain there for the foreseeable future.

At the August Planning Commission meeting, Amy Bodek, AICP, Director, Long Beach Development Services announced that the LUE would go to the City Council in October regardless of whether the Commission voted to recommend it or not. That seemed to indicate there was some unnamed deadline. I discovered that the deadline to submit an application to The Transformative Climate Community Program (TCC) was November 30. 2017 and I wonder if that was the reason for the rush to get the LUE approved.

TCC is funded by proceeds from the Cap and Trade auctions and was created in Sacramento by AB 2722 from the 2015 – 2016 legislative session. Its mission is to create a zone to transform communities within the most disadvantaged parts of the state as identified by the Cal Environ Screen. Environmental justice belief is that lower economic level families have less ability to cope with the effects of pollution and therefore must be classified at a higher risk level than middle and higher income families. The Cal Environ Screen uses data which includes multiple pollution sources which occur in one area, economic levels, and other data to map out and determine which areas are most at risk.

Long Beach has been identified as one of the cities with an area which will meet the requirements for funding from TCC (Page B-1).

TCC grants are intended to fund planning activities that implement local land use plans adopted within the past five years. TCC funds will be used to support the construction of affordable housing near transit and for low-income households presumably at a greater distance from the pollution produced by the Port, the 710 Freeway, and closely located oil refineries (multiple pollution sources) because of the belief that lower income families have less resources to deal with the pollution.  As outlined in the July 2017 Draft Scoping Guidelines, applicants must define a contiguous project area that is no larger than five- square miles and is within the boundary of a single city and the areas must have a high risk of adverse effects from pollutants. Since inception, there has been a percentage of cap and trade money designated to be spent in disadvantaged communities. That has been changed by AB 1550, passed this year, to some of those funds may be used for disadvantaged communities.

On September 8, 2016, Mayor Garcia wrote a letter addressed to Governor Brown in support of AB 2722 (Burke) and TCC. In the letter, Mayor Garcia wrote: “Long Beach looks forward to partnering with the State and our local community on initiatives and benefits afforded through AB 2722.”—state/2015—2016/support-for-ab_2722-9.7.16_2.0/

There are also many funding sources available to build affordable housing in addition to TCC.

Another concerning factor in regard to the proposed LUE is that we’ve been told not to worry if the Towne Center is re-zoned for multi-use and increased density because it’s owned by the City. I always believe bills are passed for a reason and AB 2208, which was passed in 2016, states the airspace above sites owned or leased by a city or county is added to the Housing Element “land suitable for residential development.” Putting it into that category means that it will be evaluated to be placed on the list of available inventory to meet Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) goals. Airspace above refers to the possibility of additional stories being built above the existing stores. Lacking an inventory of city owned land I can’t determine if there are other areas with similar circumstances.

AB 1397 specifies RHNA goals are selected from the category of “land suitable for residential development.” And according to the technique described in Long Beach’s Housing Element, the Towne Center could be placed towards the top of the inventory list. On Page 86 from this report:

“Identifying Sites Suitable for Housing

In identifying the sites available for accommodating the 2014-2021 RHNA, the City began by reviewing and updating the sites inventory compiled for the previous Housing Element (2008-2014). Due to the depressed housing market and associated economic recession, development activities in the City have slowed in recent years. Many of the sites identified in 2008 are still available for development.

The original sites inventory was compiled using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis, staff knowledge, and field survey. Using the GIS, existing zoning (units/acre) and parcel area were used to calculate the potential maximum housing units allowed per parcel for the entire 50 square mile City. Then the improvement-to-land value ratio for each parcel was calculated by dividing the value of improvements (buildings) by the value of the land (from Los Angeles County Assessor data). For example, a parcel with improvements worth $500,000 and land worth $1 million would have an improvement ratio of 0.5. The lower the improvement ratio, the higher the potential for recycling the parcel into a new development. Then, the list of parcels was sorted by maximum housing units permitted. Only parcels with an improvement ratio of less than 0.6 were included. Parcels with improvement ratios higher than 0.6 were considered less likely to recycle than those with lower improvement ratios. This is a fairly conservative assumption as economic studies typically use a ratio of 1.0 as threshold for recycling feasibility. This analysis identified 120 parcels that could accommodate 12 units or more on each individual parcel (the size of a small garden apartment building). This list was reexamined to verify that the GIS analysis was identifying valid parcels. (A density of at least 30 units/acre is needed to accommodate lower income housing targets.) Staff knowledge of existing uses, aerial photos, and field checks were used to screen properties with near-term development potential.

Staff reviewed the 2008 sites inventory, updated status of specific sites, and re-evaluated potential development based on current trends. To accommodate the 2014-2021 RHNA, additional sites are included in the inventory. Ultimately 31 sites are included in the sites inventory (many with multiple contiguous parcels) as having the potential to accommodate the City’s RHNA (Table 39 Error! Reference source not found.). A detailed list of the properties identified is included in Appendix B.

The City primarily focuses in areas where densities can exceed 30 units per acre. Each site is comprised of multiple contiguous parcels with lot consolidation potential. Among the 31 sites identified (see Table 39), seven are vacant, with the remaining 24 sites being developed with existing but underutilized or marginally viable businesses. The majority of the underutilized sites are currently used as surface parking lots, vacated buildings; others are occupied by small independent businesses. These uses do not represent the highest and best uses for the sites and are not consistent with the City’s vision for these areas. Specifically, Sites 2, 3, 6,13, 19, and 22 are interim surface parking lots under City ownership. Several are vacant lots owned by the City (Sites 12 and 24), and several are vacant lots owned by the LBCIC (Sites 27, 28, and 31). In addition, one vacant lot is owned by Habitat for Humanity.”

Per SB 35, It has not yet been determined by the Department of Housing and Community Development what information will need to be included on the year end housing report. This report must be completed by April 1st and a public meeting must be held to discuss the contents.  I suspect that many of these newly classified residential and mixed use properties could make their way onto the list of “land suitable for residential development” and consequently as land designated to meet RHNA goals. This could be due to the unknown, at this time, requirements of the year end housing report and based upon the wording in SB 35 which says to include in the report “local efforts to remove governmental constraints to the maintenance, improvement, and development of housing pursuant to paragraph (3) of subdivision (c) of Section 65583.” Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) will not release their methodology for how RHNA goals are determined. There are also nebulous new government codes which refer to housing goals and not specifically RHNA housing goals.

A concern is that if these newly re-zoned properties are included on the RHNA list, housing advocates will make demands that developments be built in some of these locations based on “environmental equity” principles which have been included in many areas of state housing laws and another term used in CA government code – “socio-economic equity.” I have asked for a definition of “socio-economic equity” from my state and local legislators. I received a reply from two of them stating they can’t provide a definition and no reply from the third. In addition, one of the housing bills (SB 167) passed this year allows for very generous legal compensation if certain conditions are not followed. There’s no way for me to understand the extent of the possible implications.

City employees and City Councilmembers have stated inaccuracies about many items, particularly about SB 35. At this point in time, a reasonable person may doubt any information they provide. They have not been upfront with the citizens about 15 housing bills passed by Sacramento this year, and previously passed bills, which will be effective and have a major impact on the implementation of the proposed LUE if enacted. In addition, large numbers of stakeholders have no knowledge about any of this. It’s been suggested multiple times that a notice be enclosed in city utility bills to which one response by the city was: “not everyone gets a utility bill” as if notifying most is somehow inferior to not notifying everyone.

With a few tweaks, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the LUE on December 11, 2018 in opposition to the vast majority of 80 public speakers. Approving the proposed LUE will most likely be on the Long Beach City Council’s Agenda sometime in January 2018. In my opinion, I believe there is no chance for it not to be passed. Once it is passed, it will not be possible to go back due to Sacramento housing bills which greatly restrict local control.  Once a permit is approved, streamlined or otherwise, the development can’t be stopped.

The unintended consequences may be vast and are unknown to us, the stakeholders.

I’m asking for an attorney to get involved to help us stop this insanity. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Janet West

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