Commentary

Jason Gibbs | Adequate Housing in California vs. the Need for Local Control

Growing up, I can recall many memories of waking up early so I could eat breakfast next to my dad before he left for work. While the newspaper at the time held little interest to me (except for the Sunday funny pages of course), I would read the back of my cereal box while he sipped coffee and muttered phrases like “What’s this world coming to?” or, my personal favorite, “Sacramento is at it again.” 

Flash forward 25 years, and here I am sipping coffee and reading The Signal every morning, often repeating similar phrases, while my 3-year-old son watches Peppa Pig and eats his breakfast.  

A few weeks back, an article discussing future housing needs in Santa Clarita caused more than muttered speech from me, community leaders and local citizens. 

The California Department of Housing and Community Development announced that over 1 million new homes needed to be planned for in a six-county area, by October 2029, including up to 16,256 homes here in the Santa Clarita Valley. 

Keep in mind, this does not include already-approved developments like Newhall Ranch and Vista Canyon that were captured under the 2012 OVOV General Plan! The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is objecting to the numbers determined by the state, but regardless, the state will be requiring the planning of more housing in the coming years. 

Back in the late 1960s, California mandated that all cities, towns and counties must plan for the housing needs of their residents, called the Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA). The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) determines the number of new homes to be built, and the various affordability levels of those homes, in order to meet the housing needs of projected growth in that municipality. Then, each local government must update their housing element in their general plan to identify where these housing units can be built.

There are two key points to keep in mind with RHNA, and how the actions being taken at our capitol are deeply concerning. First, while RHNA and HCD determine the number of homes a municipality must plan for, they cannot force the development. 

Simply, they can tell cities to plan for it, but can’t give deadlines for the development. 

Second, there are no penalties if a municipality fails to plan for their “fair share” of housing…or is there?

In 2017, Sacramento passed Senate Bill 35, which allowed “by-right” permitting of qualifying housing developments where cities fell short of their RHNA goals, which includes virtually all of California. Basically, if a development was proposed that met a city’s zoning rules and had 10% of the units as affordable, the city could not reject the proposal. 

In 2018, Sacramento passed Senate Bill 828, which required localities to inventory their land suitable for residential development, and if none is available, identify areas that could be up-filled. Or to say it another way, municipalities must increase density when new land is not available.

And while it did not go anywhere this term, AB 1568 was perhaps the first bill that would financially penalize a city or county by not allowing them to apply for a state grant if their housing plan does not comply with housing element law. 

Once again Sacramento finds a way to continually erode local control. 

Market-created housing shortage realities from wage stagnation, significant tax burdens, unintended consequences from rent control, student loan debt, and vanishing labor markets do not get addressed by forcing cities to follow a one-size-fits-all scheme.

Santa Clarita is a shining example of the success a city can have when it is well-planned and executed. The foresight of our leaders to protect open space in conjunction with smart growth and planning produced a city that is clean, safe and prosperous. 

However with the recent attacks on the gig economy, Proposition 13 no longer safe from the insatiable thirst for revenue, and a Legislature convinced they can fix problems with the stroke of a pen, our past successes could become nothing more than a fond memory. 

Perhaps a politician will look at our trails, parkland and open space and think, “Wow, look at all that opportunity for high-density housing?” NIMBY will become a phrase of the past, as backyards will be replaced with mandated housing units.

Do not let misguided political virtue signaling decimate all the good we have accomplished in this community. Continuing to balance locally desired housing, open space, and long-term economic opportunity for our residents should be decided at City Hall, not Sacramento.

Jason Gibbs is a Santa Clarita resident.

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