County Supervisors provide direction on increased housing options

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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has given direction to county staff to advance 19 options to increase the supply of affordable housing in unincorporated San Diego County.

Separate Board of Supervisors votes were taken on each of the options during the October 10 hearing; the votes were to refine the possibilities for subsequent action rather than to approve any specific proposal. The supervisors voted 5-0 to receive the report and to find the preliminary planning actions exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has given direction to county staff to advance 19 options to increase the supply of affordable housing in unincorporated San Diego County.

Separate Board of Supervisors votes were taken on each of the options during the October 10 hearing; the votes were to refine the possibilities for subsequent action rather than to approve any specific proposal. The supervisors voted 5-0 to receive the report and to find the preliminary planning actions exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review.

“It’s a good starting point,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. “I think staff did a pretty good job of coming back with what we had asked for: a lot of options.”

The Board of Supervisors updated the county’s general plan in August 2011, and that update included principles to place development in the most appropriate areas such as near town or village centers and transportation corridors.

The density calculations were based on the expected increase in population for unincorporated San Diego County.

Projects with density lower than the general plan stipulates decrease the amount of available housing and thus create a shortfall. That housing shortage tends to be not at the expense of luxury homes but at the expense of more affordable housing, and the county currently does not have a mechanism to compensate for projects which do not utilize the full density allowed.

A May 2017 Public Policy Institute of California report indicated that San Diego County has a shortfall of more than 140,000 available affordable rental homes.

Some San Diego employees have moved to southwest Riverside County to obtain affordable housing, which impacts San Diego County roads while providing no traffic mitigation funding for San Diego County.

On March 28, 2018, the county supervisors voted 5-0 to direct the county’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to investigate the means of establishing a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, a density transfer credit program, or an equivalent program for unincorporated San Diego County and to return to the board within 180 days with findings and options for consideration.

A 4-0 vote on April 18 with Ron Roberts in Asia directed the CAO to investigate other options to promote the expedient building of homes in unincorporated San Diego County and the closing of the housing gap through incentive programs and/or regulatory relief and to return within 180 days with appropriate recommendations.

The 19 potential actions were divided into five categories.

Three of those were in the process and streamlining category focused on reducing the time and cost associated with the permit process while four possible actions apiece were in the regulatory reform category to correct inconsistent or outdated regulations which inadvertently act as barriers in housing production, the participation and incentives category to explore incentives to stimulate production of diverse housing types, the general plan and community plan category to implement general plan goals and policies related to maintaining general plan housing capacity, and the land development code category which would consolidate and modernize zoning and use regulations.

“I’m in agreement with every one of their recommendations,” Roberts said.

Informational presentations were made to the community planning group and community sponsor group chairs on July 14 and to the county’s Planning Commission on Aug. 3, and two community planning groups requested presentations which were provided in August.

One process and streamlining action is to expand upon the county’s previous business process re-engineering efforts to reduce processing times and thus the applicant’s cost.

Another action in that category would improve the community engagement and public review process by receiving public input at key points in the process to develop balanced recommendations.

The other processing and streamlining action would improve project scoping, communication, issue identification, application processing, tracking and archiving and coordination and partnering between county departments.  Because the actions are already ongoing, no further Board of Supervisors direction is needed.

Three of the regulatory reform actions involve previous direction from the Board of Supervisors: a site implementation ordinance which would establish agreements between the developer and the county to consolidate and defer conditions of approval, removing potential redundancies in the Resource Protection Ordinance and the Biological Mitigation Ordinance to avoid duplicated work efforts, and revising permit review procedures including an expansion of on-line permit processing as well as streamlined decision-making authority.

The county supervisors also did not take an Oct. 10 vote on the potential group quarters ordinance which would revise the Group Residential definition in the county’s Zoning Ordinance to allow for units with an independent kitchen.

A density bonus program is one of four participation and incentive recommendations. A developer granted a density bonus would provide a deed restriction limiting the housing to families with extremely low or very low income (less than 50 percent of the region’s average median income), low income (50 to 80 percent of the AMI), or moderate income (80 to 120 percent of the AMI) for a period of at least 55 years.

County staff provided two density bonus options: one to allow additional incentives for a project and one to expand the density program to include middle-income earners with a family income between 120 and 150 percent of the AMI.

The region’s 2018 AMI is $81,000 while the median price of a home is estimated to be $550,000; 120 percent of the AMI is $98,151 which would allow purchase of a $315,000 home.

“I like both of them,” Supervisor Bill Horn said of the bonus incentives.  “It’s cost-prohibitive to build lower-income units if you don’t have enough of a bonus to make it worthwhile.”

The supervisors voted 5-0 to direct county staff to develop both density bonus options further and return to the board for consideration of adopting those density bonus programs.

Inclusionary housing policies link approvals for market-rate housing to the creation of affordable homes for low-income and moderate-income households.  The program criteria and implementation procedures must be designed carefully to avoid unintended consequences including a reduction in overall housing creation or increases in market-rate prices.

Because homebuyers or renters absorb the costs associated with inclusionary housing programs a program without the correct market conditions could reduce the overall housing production.

A motion to direct county staff to prepare both an economic feasibility analysis flexible compliance program and an ordinance with a minimum 10 percent affordable housing requirement passed on a 3-2 vote with Greg Cox, Roberts and Horn in favor and Jacob and Kristin Gaspar opposed.

A 5-0 vote on the accessory dwelling unit options directed county staff to prepare plans and implement programs to reduce permitting time and costs by providing pre-approved plans to property owners and expediting the plan check review process, to develop a program for future Board of Supervisors consideration which would waive development impact fee costs for a five-year trial period, to prepare an ordinance to create a Junior Accessory Dwelling category for additional units derived by converting existing space and which do not require additional parking, and to monitor the results of other jurisdictions’ pilot programs to encourage construction of accessory dwelling units by providing a grant or loan to the property owner in exchange for renting the additional dwelling unit at an affordable rate through a deed restriction or other similar mechanism.

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