Community Voices

“By Right” Up-Zoning Will Change Fullerton Forever: City to Decide on Fast-Tracking Over 24,000 High Rise Units with 90% at Unaffordable Prices

Maybe you were born here, or perhaps you moved to Fullerton for the same reasons I did; diversity of people, income levels, trees, and historic architecture, unexpected for Orange County, and all in a charming combination that managed to retain a small town feel even in the 21st century.

I’ve been sounding the alarm in recent years that we’ll soon hit a tipping point where what’s unique, natural, or historical will be outnumbered by cookie-cutter, anonymous corporate chain high-rises with life-altering out-of-town decision-making.

We are just about at that point. The Housing Element decisions that the City will make this year could change our City’s unique, historic feel forever. The City should look at every opportunity to create affordable housing without overbuilding. I’d like to offer some alternatives to recent overzealous, by-right building proposals that will destroy something that, once lost, cannot be regained while still meeting our legal and moral obligations to provide affordable housing.

To solve the state’s affordable housing crisis, Fullerton must accommodate building 13,209 units over eight years. Inexplicably, over 5,500 of these required units will be market-rate or luxury units, meaning that the City of Fullerton could be misled into subsidizing or streamlining housing typically built “naturally” because market forces provide a significant return on investment for higher-priced housing. The City has always met and, in fact, far exceeded its market-rate housing goals. Market-rate housing needs to be built, but incentivizing it is not necessary.

The City needs 2,271 units at the next level of required housing, considered moderately affordable, rather than through what is proposed below. The City could accommodate over half of these by instituting an “inclusionary” housing policy requiring market-rate and luxury housing developers to build 20% of their units at this level ($3,201 monthly rental for a family of four, or $500,000 for-sale units). The Planning Commission once discussed instituting an inclusionary policy, but it hasn’t been adopted.

Everyone can agree that the most pressing need for affordable housing is for people with the lowest incomes, and the City needs 5,187 of these. But, unfortunately, the City has always struggled to meet these, typically at only approximately 50%.

The City is suggesting several tools to meet the state’s 13,209 mandate. The Planning Commission met on February 15 to study one of them, the HIOZ (Housing Incentive Overlay Zone), which would allow hundreds of retail and industrially-zoned parcels to be up-zoned with an overlay allowance for multi-family homes. The advantage to developers is massive: a “by-right” building with no normally required re-zoning or general plan amendment hearings, no formal density bonus requests, potentially drastically reduced parking requirements, and no standard environmental review. In return, developers would include 10% of the units at one or more of the affordability levels (potentially the lower levels, but possibly just the “moderate” $3,201 level).

The areas currently identified for HIOZ would accommodate at least 24,491 housing units, well above our 13,209 requirements. It’s still unclear what amount of density would be allowed. But it appears to be at 40 du/acre (dwelling units per acre [3 to 4 stories]), though 75 du/acre (7 to 8 stories) may be allowed. Other than by-request “specific plans,” only one area in Fullerton’s General Plan envisions this level of density (near Harbor and Orangethorpe), with most between 30 and 60 du/acre.

Most cities include a buffer of 15 to 30% above requirements to ensure they meet their numbers. Our HIOZ alone, even without any other tools considered, is almost 200% above our requirements, with over 90% – over 22,000! – in the market-rate/luxury level; non-affordable by definition. With this kind of lucrative fast-tracking, speculators will purchase many properties. As a result, prices throughout Fullerton could spiral out of control, making an already dire situation worse instead of better.

The HIOZ proposals of primarily market-rate housing exponentially exceed our allowable General Plan density and build-out levels, which already exceed safe air quality and traffic congestion levels, having been excused from meeting the requirements. In addition, the switch to staff-level reviews from the current Planning Commission and City Council public process will surprise many property owners who will no longer have a say regarding zone changes, density, and building proposals immediately adjacent to them. Items addressed at the recent study session: removing church properties to a separate affordable housing tool, the enormous buffer HIOZ adds to Fullerton’s luxury housing fast-tracking, the removal of future decisions from the public realm, design standards to mitigate the effect of 8-story buildings directly adjacent to historic or one- or two-story buildings, new housing next to toxics generators and truck yards, the need to address the emergency evacuation needs of mobility-challenged individuals, the ability for additional property owners to opt-in to HIOZ, the potential loss of mobile home parks, commercial and industrial uses.

The dire need for affordable housing shouldn’t be a reason to destroy Fullerton’s uniqueness and open it to big-box design and corporate housing speculators. Again, we can create affordable housing without overbuilding.

If you care about this issue, please call or text for a link or phone number to a Zoom discussion at 2 pm, Sunday, March 12: 714-729-3019

1 reply »

  1. Uh oh, Jane. Your fellow Observers aren’t going to like this stance. Cliff dwellings for everybody. It’s like China in the good old days.