A special city council meeting was held on Aug. 26 to discuss the housing element.

The item was preceded by a proclamation in honor of Tyrone Snowden Woods, Sr., a Senior Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy. Woods died on Nov.12, 2012 in Benghazi during a special mission. He was a business owner and home owner in Imperial Beach. The proclamation declared Patriot Day Sept. 11, 2020 as Tyrone Snowden, Sr., Day.

Moving on to the housing element, consultant Veronica Tam explained that the housing element is part of the city’s general plan and must be updated every 8 years because of changes in market conditions. The general plan usually is updated every 20 years. In the San Diego region, the deadline for updating the housing element is April 15, 2021 with a grace period of 120 days. The housing element is reviewed by the State Department of Housing and Community Development for compliance. The overriding requirement of the housing element is to accommodate requirements through RHNA as mandated by the state.

Last year Imperial Beach was assigned 1375 units. The city appealed that number, which was subsequently reduced to 1329, with the following breakdown: 225 very low income units, 123 low income, 183 moderate, 798 above moderate.

RHNA’s goal is to make sure there is enough housing production for all income groups due to the fact that not only lower income but middle income families are priced out of the housing market. In particular special needs are those who need the housing the most. As designated by state law, special needs are: seniors, homeless, women who head a household, households with more than five people, and disabled individuals.

Tam explained that not complying with state law has legal ramifications - such as not being eligible for state grants, that serve as Block Grants, and transportation and infrastructure funds. She pointed out the example of Huntington Beach whom the state attorney filed a lawsuit against. Tam also said any agency or organization with interest in housing can file a lawsuit against a city about not complying with the housing element. Fines can be up to $100,000 per month until a city complies. Tam cited another lawsuit in Pleasanton where the state attorney suspended building permits for about a year in the city. The state looks at methodology to decide how to distribute the housing in the seven regions and small sub-regions. Each jurisdiction receives a RHNA number and in San Diego, SANDAG is responsible for receiving RHNA numbers and allocating them to all its members.

Each city is responsible for planning for these units from a land use prospective, but building the units is not the responsibility of the city.

Mayor Serge Dedina interjected saying, “IB took a very strong stance for 60 percent above moderate… forcing us to gentrify… citizens are against it.”

Tam clarified that although you have 60 percent above moderate units, the state would have more of a problem if the city could not fulfill the lower income housing units.

One of the strategies to fulfill the RHNA numbers is using Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU), also known as granny flats. This is a new concept in the state law that allows homeowners to use parts of a house and turn it into independent living units. The city may consider ADU numbers against RHNA numbers.

Tam gave an overview of the demographics and housing situation in the city. The population in the city is 28,000 and that has not changed in the past 30 years, but the population has seen an increase in those over 62 years old by 2 percent. The housing stock with homes 50 years or older is 49.2 percent, more than 30 years old is 36.9 percent and less than 30 years old 13.9 percent.

In the last four years, the city has issued 13 ADUs permits, and this year another 13 as of Aug. 24.

Tam said if residents are spending more than 30 percent of their income, they are considered cost burdened. In the city, 47 percent are considered cost burdened.

The city plans to continue doing community outreach, prepare a draft of the Housing Element by the fall of 2020 which includes the housing needs assessment, identify concerns and resources, develop goals, policies and objectives and finally submit a draft around January 2021. The adoption of the Housing Element is planned by March 2021.

Poll questions asked during the meeting showed residents are worried about density, lack of parking, and are against zoning changes and high density. Residents are also worried about changing the fabric of the city, but like the idea of ADUs.

During council comment, Councilman Robert Patton also spoke about density, extra cars parked on the street and quality of life. “What are some things we can do sooner rather than later?” he asked. Community Development Director, Tyler Foltz answered that based on state law multi-family units can have ADUs. He suggested for the city to reduce permit fees for ADUs, provide pre-approved plans for ADUs, and to hold citizens’ session with residents interested in creating ADUs on their properties.

Councilman Mark West suggested creating more housing on major transportation zones like Palm Avenue and 13th Street and looking at buildings and lots that are under utilized.

Councilman Ed Spriggs agreed and thought building new housing on the city limits with San Diego, closer to trolley lines, is a good idea. “As policy makers .…we have to thread this needle with state wide pressure, need for affordable housing, real needs of the community to maintain as much quality of life as possible…,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Paloma Aguirre showed concern about gentrification and displacement of residents who have lived in the city for decades. She liked the idea of streamlining the permitting process for ADUs and Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (very small unit up to 500 sq. ft.)

Dedina spoke of the need for more affordable housing and how young people who grew up in Imperial Beach can’t afford to come back and buy a house.

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