State requires Fullerton to plan for 13,209 units over next eight years
In her last meeting with the City of Fullerton before moving on to a new position with the City of Anaheim, City Planner Heather Allen presented Fullerton’s draft Housing Element to the Planning Commission on January 19 for their input. After giving their comments, the Planning Commission voted to continue the item, to wait for feedback from the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
The Housing Element is an important document that outlines both how the City has done in achieving its stated goal of “a supply of safe housing ranging in cost and type to meet the needs of all segments of the community,” and how the City plans to meet the housing needs of residents at all income levels over the next eight years.
An important part of the Housing Element is the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), a projection of Fullerton’s housing needs across all income sectors. According to the Housing Element, Fullerton continues to fall short of its housing affordability goals.
Between 2013 and 2021, Fullerton set a goal of approving 710 housing units accessible to low and very low-income residents. Only 410 were built. Meanwhile, Fullerton set a goal to approve 794 housing units for above- moderate-income residents. In fact, 1,230 were built.
The current RHNA numbers are significantly higher than last time. Whereas the goal for total number of housing units was 1,841 from 2013-2021, the goal for 2021-2029 is 13,209 units. This increase reflects the statewide housing affordability crisis.
To meet these numbers, the City must identify sites and propose programs to meet the City’s projected housing needs.
The draft Housing Element proposes taking advantage of two current state laws/programs, and two newly-proposed local programs:
Existing State Laws:
• The Surplus Land Act: (Any property declared surplus that isn’t wanted for open space must be built with at least 25% affordable housing)
• Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU/ JDU): Any single family residence may build an ADU and Junior ADU (JDU) on their property
Proposed New Local Programs:
• Housing Incentive Opportunity Zone (HIOZ): An overlay zone that allows a property owner to develop multi-family housing on a parcel with a non-residential underlying zoning classification (such as commercial, industrial, office, greenbelt, railroad, and religious) in exchange for providing a specified percentage of deed-restricted affordable housing units.
• Religious Institution Properties: Allows properties containing religious institutions to be developed with permanent supportive housing and/or deed restricted affordable housing.
Together, the Housing Element shows these four programs potentially providing over 30,000 housing units, well over the 13,209 required, in case some are not possible. For comparison, as of 2020, the city has 49,163 housing units.
Newly appointed Commissioner Arif Mansuri said he had received a letter from the Public Law Center stating that the City’s draft housing element fails to meet all the statutory requirements. Mansuri said he was sorry to see Allen go, as she is the most experienced staff member who has worked on the Housing Element. He asked if the City has adequate staff to complete the process.
Interim Director of Community and Economic Development Greg Pfost, who will take over leadership of the Housing Element process, said that the City does have adequate staff, plus a consultant they have hired.
Mansuri asked if the city was in danger of not meeting the deadline for approving its Housing Element, and what are the consequences of HCD not certifying our Housing Element.
Pfost said the City will most likely not meet the deadline of February 12, the penalty of which would be that Fullerton has less than a year (instead of three years) to approve its Housing Element Implementation Plan.
During public comments, Jane Rands suggested that, in order to meet affordable housing needs, the City require a 15% or more affordable housing requirement, rather than the contemplated 10%, in the Housing Incentive Overlay Zone (HIOZ) and the religious institution properties.
Rands also asked if there was outstanding RHNA legal challenge that Fullerton is a part of. The assistant city attorney said that there was a suit filed that lost in trial court. An appeal is expected.
Jane Reifer suggested that the City look at every opportunity to create affordable housing but without overbuilding. She suggested a city scorecard for every building project that comes before the city to see how each development is contributing to affordable housing.
She also asked that any city subsidies be de-coupled from the above-market housing proposals, especially once those requirements are met, so that scarce city resources could help meet the more necessary, lower income levels of housing that are traditionally unmet.
Reifer questioned how the original 2020 HIOZ concept to incentivize affordability in 15 areas had morphed into the current 363 parcels.
Lastly, Reifer suggested an inclusionary housing program of 15-25% affordable units for new developments, stating that several Fullerton developers she consulted indicated that they would have provided affordable units in their otherwise market-rate projects without hesitation, had the City asked. Commissioner Arnel Dino asked that a discussion on inclusionary housing be agendized at a future meeting.
Allen said the City doesn’t want to set the inclusionary number too high and get nothing. “We want to make sure we set a number that the market rate developers can actually achieve.”
The assistant City attorney said that State law makes it more difficult when cities go above 15%.
Ernie Kelsey of Fullerton Heritage said he would like to see more historic preservation zones and invited the public to contact him for assistance in designating neighborhoods. He asked for a cross-referenced list of Fullerton’s historic properties and the HIOZ and surplus lands lists to ensure that no historic resources or environments are at any risk of overdevelopment adjacent to them.
Commissioner Peter Gambino expressed concern over the loss of commercial properties. Planning Commission Chair Douglas Cox shared this concern. “Because ultimately, there’s sales tax revenue these places are generating.”
Chair Cox asked if the programs that were proposed by the City could confer a “by right” standard of development that would not come before the Commission or City Council.
Allen said that once the ordinance is adopted, the associated Zoning Code and General Plan amendments would then need to be adopted in a separate action in order to confer the ‘”by right” or “ministerial” entitlements. She confirmed that, from that point, the approvals would be handled in the building department, rather than through the Commission or Council unless something exceeded the standards and needed a variance.
Commissioner Gambino pointed out that the re-zoning would already be in place for the properties in the HIOZ zones, and expressed concern that these discretionary zone changes are being taken away from the Planning Commission. “I can’t help but wonder why are we here,” Gambino said. “There’s very little about this that’s discretionary, it seems.”
The draft Housing Element is available at www.cityoffullerton.com/housinggameplan.
The Housing Game Plan website above also includes a standalone version of Table B-6, listing all potential HIOZ parcels but including street addresses for easier identification, and a new map that shows all locations. To simplify your research, review Chapter 4 (p. 57 of the pdf) that discusses the City’s four draft policies that will become the City’s decision framework, and Appendix H-B (p.83 of the pdf), that maintains that the City has adequate sites to meet its share of regional housing needs.