City discusses importance of housing element  

Santa Clarita City Hall

 After 18 months of back-and-forth with the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, the city of Santa Clarita recently received approval for its housing element, according to city officials.  

The state’s signoff on the plan — particularly after more than a year of the city “showing its homework” on how it arrived at its numbers, according to officials — provided local leadership no small measure of relief, Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs said Monday in a phone interview. 

Particularly since the city has been seeing an increasing number of proposals from developers that provide examples on why having an approved “element” is critical, he said.  

Since 1969, California’s Housing Element Law, according to the state’s HCD, “acknowledges that, in order for the private market to adequately address the housing needs and demand of Californians, local governments must adopt plans and regulatory systems that provide opportunities for (and do not unduly constrain) housing development,” according to the state’s website. “As a result, housing policy in California rests largely on the effective implementation of local general plans and, in particular, local housing elements.” 

Jason Crawford, director of economic development for the city, said for Santa Clarita, “the 10,031 total housing allocation target is the number of housing units, inclusive of the different affordability categories, that the city has to show there is zoned capacity throughout to be entitled,” he wrote in an email to The Signal. “We have to show that there are properties in the city that are zoned to allow for that number of units.”  

The city updates the element annually to let the state know what number of units have been approved in each affordability category. 

Gibbs, who has expressed frustration in recent months over what he and other council members have described as a continual erosion of local control from Sacramento in state laws attempting to solve the housing shortage, said the news was very significant.  

“Initially, we’re happy that the element has now been approved because one of the concerns you have is, when you do not have an approved housing element, you worry about things like builder remedies,” Gibbs said.  

In those scenarios, a developer can propose a project that has more density than a city might regularly allow for an area, and then claim the plan is a “builder remedy,” or a way to help the city meet its unapproved housing element, and the city would have a difficult time enforcing local control. 

“So there’s a big relief there (with the approved housing element) … that you will push back against those types of projects that can go against some of the zoning methodologies that we have,” he said. 

During the discussion of a project during last week’s City Council meeting, Councilman Cameron Smyth said that planners saw one plan for a property in Newhall that was looking at putting 25 homes per acre in an area the city zoned for two homes per acre. 

One of the arguments Smyth gave in support of the planned Shadowbox Studios production facility in North Newhall and Placerita Canyon is that if the city didn’t approve it, the land could have been sold to a developer who wanted to put more than 2,000 homes in the area. 

The Shadowbox project is expected to add 19 soundstages in about 93 acres of development near the entrance to Placerita Canyon.   

“I think we do need to do our best effort to make this project work, because it doesn’t add any housing units, it helps with our job-housing balance and it, most importantly, allows this community to decide what happens with that property,” Smyth said prior to the vote approving the studio facility. “And I’m concerned that if we don’t do that, we’re going to lose that opportunity, and what the state decides to do to us is going to be much more impactful and significant than this project here.” 

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