“We’ll look at it.”
In a nutshell, that was Santa Clarita’s answer for a handful of senior citizens who had one question for the City Council during a recent meeting: “How can we remain what we most want to be, which is ongoing citizens of Santa Clarita?”
The seniors are longtime apartment renters who need no special care but who are being priced out of their homes as more casualties of California’s housing crisis.
That crisis is particularly acute here in the Santa Clarita Valley, where the city and others have built a desirable suburban community with a limited housing supply, and apartment rents have spiraled 7 percent between May 1 last year and May 1 this year.
Senior citizens on fixed incomes are watching their rents skyrocket as their earnings remain near static and wondering if they’re next to be priced out of their homes.
Rent control was one solution Newhall resident Beverlee Broggie proposed to council members.
But expecting the city to adopt rent control to protect senior citizens, or to mandate construction of senior housing, is to ignore its 30 years of frugal management that has driven the city’s bond ratings to sterling levels while keeping its roads paved, its trash out of the streets, its property rights protected and its emergency coffers equal to the challenge of leading Santa Clarita through the 1994 earthquake aftermath.
“We see a need for (senior housing) and will encourage developers and property owners to look at the market,” Tom Cole, director of community development, said of the seniors’ plight during an interview that followed their City Council plea.
“With (construction) applicants that come through the city, we always expect them to react to the marketplace,” Cole said. “From the city’s perspective, we can’t force-feed the market.”
And so it won’t, whatever options it might have to do so.
City spokeswoman Carrie Lujan said Santa Clarita does not have any policies that require a certain number of homes or apartments to be designated for affordable or senior housing.
She added there are several policies in place that address affordable housing in the city’s general plan. Its housing element, approved in 2013, notes areas where housing is lacking, several large parcels where affordable housing could be developed, and also offers some referrals.
Broggie was distinctly unimpressed with referrals. Reflecting on the Consumer Housing Information for Seniors of the Santa Clarita Valley, she found, for example, “the ‘affordable’ units not only have long waiting lists, they also have an income range of $1,200-$1,975, causing many (seniors) to be caught in a ‘donut hole’ of income too high for assistance, with not enough left for ordinary expenses,” she wrote in a letter to the editor of The Signal.
But while the city offers consoling words, Cole’s comments show a passive attitude found often in city government today: the city expects construction applicants to “react” to the marketplace. The onus is on them, not the city, to promote senior housing.
The result has been construction of mostly single-family homes – the blueprint for Newhall Land and Farming’s 1960s-70s Valencia – but little in the way of starter homes or those for older residents. Youngsters who grow up here and seniors who want to retire here are priced out of the area.
Meantime, more and more costly social issues are being brought to the city’s doorstep, homelessness and lack of affordable housing among them. Santa Clarita tap-dances around the problems that come with large cities but seems disinclined to adopt solutions.
It will “look at” lack of affordable senior housing, but will it do anything about it?
For a year it dodged a countywide drive to draw up a plan for relieving homelessness, in the end voting as a council not to become involved (with one vehement dissenting vote).
Since county voters agreed in March to pay a sales tax hike to implement that plan, has Santa Clarita yet drawn up its own citywide homeless plan? Its ad hoc committee has met just once since Measure H passed and subsequently back-burnered the issue in favor of drawing up a budget – a task it faces every year at this time.
And still there’s no permanent location for a year-round homeless shelter, which has been discussed for more years than some residents can remember.
The city, in fact, is run largely as a conservative business: suspicious of any long-term expenses that don’t yield real results; mindful of the bottom line and interested in concrete results.
Hence its sterling bond rating, which benefits homeowners as well as the city itself.
New, old problems
And while the problems of older, aging cities begin to encroach, parts of the community still have room to grow and face new-community, new-infrastructure and new-growth issues.
County planners, for example, have approved 300 new homes and 17 apartment buildings in Castaic. Such growth outside the city boundaries certainly affects traffic and other issues inside it.
Those who slog through Newhall Pass traffic every day to pay the mortgage and provide good schools, straight teeth and plenty of youth sports programs will likely remain the priority as long as the current council is still sitting.
Santa Clarita Valley residents who want a government that will tackle more complex social problems should look somewhere other than their only city as it prepares to celebrate its 30th birthday this December.
Unless, that is, city voters want to push the “pause” button to consider whether the third-largest city in the county should invest in its future beyond middle-class suburbs.
Council members face some tough choices ahead as more and more people are dissatisfied with “We’ll look at it” answers. They should move ahead and take a real look at the issues facing residents, with emphasis on the word move.