San Dimas’s City Council and Planning Commission are working together to fulfill this year’s state requirements to zone for — not build — 1,248 housing units, 604 of which must be for low and very low income housing.
The city council and planning meetings, where residents are invited to provide public comment, have been contentious so far. During an Aug. 12 Planning Commission meeting, Via Verde residents banded together to demand that the Via Verde Shopping Center, which includes Vons, not be rezoned for housing in the future.
The Planning Commission ultimately recommended 15 mostly non-residential sites, excluding the Via Verde location, be rezoned for housing. Almost all 15 sites are located near the downtown area.
“We didn’t want to replace the shopping center we depend on because there’s no other shopping in the area, and any new people who move in wouldn’t have that either,” said Via Verde resident Kathryn Baldwin.
When Baldwin and her neighbors heard about the plan to possibly rezone the shopping center for housing, they spread the word.
“We were all concerned it would affect all of us as we all use the neighborhood stores.”
The last time San Dimas was required to update its housing plan, called the housing element, the city had to plan for 463 housing units. The new planning requirement is almost three times that, which prompted the city to appeal the requirement to the Southern California Association of Governments, the government body that determines the number of the units.
The appeal was denied.
“We were denied, like about 99% of the cities that appealed it,” said Henry Noh, director of Community Development for San Dimas.
The appeal submitted by the city stated that San Dimas is already built out and that new housing developments would “create an imbalance between jobs and housing in our community.”
After the housing element is adopted and approved by the city council, it goes to the California Department of Housing and Community Development for approval and adoption. Then the city has three years to change the zoning of approved sites.
For instance, if the western portion of the Albertson’s shopping center’s zone changes, as is proposed on the list of potential new housing sites, it does not mean construction starts right away. It means the property will be rezoned as residential. The Albertson’s would not be demolished for housing unless the current or future owner wants to redevelop the property for that purpose.
“The sites that are selected are not set in stone,” Noh said.
That is, even after the housing element is approved, the city has the ability to remove or add sites, as long as 1,248 new housing units are accounted for in rezoning.
What is the housing element?
Every eight years, San Dimas updates its housing element, which is a required part of every California city’s general plan in order to plan for future housing needs.
A general plan is a document that outlines the long-term vision of a city that includes land use, open space, conservation, housing, circulation, noise and safety.
The Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) forecasts housing needs for the state. The department sends the number of housing needed to a specific region — in San Dimas’ case, the Southern California Association of Governments — then the housing units are divided among the cities and jurisdictions within its boundaries.
According to San Dimas City Manager Chris Constantin, more housing legislation has been passed in the last three years than in the previous 24 years combined. That includes more punitive measures for cities and jurisdictions that decide not to comply.
“HCD has the discretion of turning the housing element over to the attorney general for prosecution,” Constantin said at a joint city council and Planning Commission study session on July 12. “They have done that in the case of Huntington Beach and other jurisdictions.”
This is the sixth housing element cycle in San Dimas.
How are sites chosen?
Guided by Housing and Community Development staff and a housing element consultant, San Dimas city staff performed an in-depth evaluation of possible sites to be rezoned for housing.
The city prioritized vacant sites, according to the Aug. 12 presentation by the planning department. Other sites were considered and prioritized because of proximity to mass transit, ability to revitalize the downtown corridor, aging structures that could be rehabilitated and existing infrastructure.
What is considered affordable housing?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines low income as housing that costs no more than 30% of the occupant’s gross income for housing costs, including utilities. In the context of the housing element, affordable housing is housing that would be available below market value for households of three or more people that make less than $81,100.
In San Dimas, 37% of households earn low incomes and may benefit from affordable housing, Constantin said.
The Southern California Association of Governments makes affordability recommendations that fall into four categories for households of three or more: very low income households make under $50,700; low income households make less than $81,100; moderate income households make less than $83,500; above moderate income households make more than $83,500.
The 1,248 planned units of housing are broken up like this: 31% or 384 units for very low income; 18% or 220 units for low income; 16% or 206 units for moderate income; and 35% or 438 units for above moderate income.
What about the public’s input?
Many San Dimas residents voiced their concerns over what additional affordable housing will do to the makeup of the city at the first joint study session between the city council and Planning Commission.
At the July 12 meeting, Vartouhy Yousoufian said she has been living in San Dimas for 21 years and this community is beautiful and clean. She said she is proud to have raised her kids in San Dimas.
“We have put a lot of tax dollars into this community,” Yousoufian said in the public comment portion of the meeting. “I feel like we need to stand up and not let this happen.”
On the other hand, residents like Antoinette Reins said that people think low income means making $20,000 to $30,000, but that is not the case.
The Air Force veteran and mother of four has experienced homelessness. She said there are a lot of misconceptions about what affordable housing will do to the region.
“I think people don’t realize that we are sometimes a paycheck away from being on the street,” said Reins, who also spoke at the July study session. “Yes, we should have more affordable housing. Los Angeles County and Orange County are some of the most expensive counties.”
Reins said in a phone interview that she has seen a lot of wrong information on community sites like Nextdoor and hopes that people can exercise compassion.
“This is for more affordable housing, not for homeless housing.”
The city currently has affordable housing units. The townhouse complex Grove Station, located at San Dimas Avenue and Commercial Street, has about 16 affordable units while Avalon, located at Bonita Avenue and San Dimas Canyon Road, has about 20 affordable units, according to Noh.
“From the city’s perspective, we will do our best to keep the high standards of any development,” Noh said. “If people think it will be a huge Section 8 housing, that’s something we wouldn’t allow as a city. There’s certain development requirements they would need to meet, state criteria like open space amenities and that there’s high quality architecture and such.”
Public input makes an impact in the process for site selection. There have already been surveys sent out to residents, subcommittee meetings and now more formalized study sessions where the public is encouraged to voice their concerns.
“I’m trying to make the best of a very difficult situation we’re in,” Noh said.
With the Gold Line coming in, Noh said there is pressure from the state to build housing near the transit hub.
“If we don’t plan for the properties around the station, we’ve seen in other cities that the state has been taking away local control,” Noh said. “So if we don’t do anything, we could be at the mercy of the state.”
City council will review the selected sites for the draft housing element on Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 5:30pm during a public study session at city hall.
Noh said once the draft housing element has been approved by the city council, the California Department of Housing and Community Development has 60 days to review and report their findings back to San Dimas. The city will make revisions as needed. The final housing element will be subject to public hearings with the Planning Commission and city council, before final approval by the city council and submission to the state.
Disclaimer: Isabel Ebiner, managing editor for the San Dimas Community Post and daughter-in-law of Councilmember John Ebiner, edited this story for AP Style.
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