Hollister City Council members had mixed views on how to handle housing growth, but there were signs that officials may be leaning toward requiring a certain amount of affordable units in developments and eliminating fees to opt out of building lower-income homes.
Council members discussed the topic of the proposed Growth Management Ordinance at a special meeting Monday. It came after the state named Hollister as one of nearly 50 California cities whose growth plans are either out of compliance or on the edge of compliance due to restrictions on building or lacking accommodations for affordable housing.
Hollister planning officials are proposing a Growth Management Ordinance that would limit the annual housing allocation to 244 units, but the draft does not include an “inclusionary” element that would require a set percentage of low-income units with each development.
The consideration comes while the city has had relatively few affordable units built in recent years, with just 13 unts fitting into lower-income classifications over the past half decade, although city planners have noted that another 129 affordable units are being built this year.
Council members ultimately offered varying perspectives on how to move forward with the growth ordinance, with disagreement on whether to reduce the 244-unit cap, but there appears to be growing consensus in favor of requiring each development to include affordable units. There was no action taken Monday, but the staff plans to take council direction and return with a more solidified plan.
Councilman Marty Richman kicked off discussion on the council end by asking staff if they will recommend an inclusionary housing ordinance requiring affordable units in all developments and indicated he would favor that concept.
“As long as the city manager’s here, no,” replied City Manager Bill Avera, who is retiring later this year, with a chuckle.
Richman noted how about one-third of California cities do have inclusionary housing ordinances.
“What we get for market-rate housing is worth the pain we’re going to go through to accept affordable housing, and there will be some,” Richman said.
Richman, Councilman Rolan Resendiz and Mayor Ignacio Velazquez all said they favored an inclusionary housing requirement. Councilwoman Carol Lenoir said she’s OK with it but had concerns about potential litigation. Councilwoman Honor Spencer did not speak on affordable housing requirements at this week’s meeting.
“That’ll bring out the lawyers like you wouldn’t believe,” Lenoir said.
Richman said the other option for developers is to offer a better deal.
“You don’t offer us a good deal, I’m willing to say thank you very much. Here’s your cup of coffee,” Richman said.
Velazquez agreed on the affordable requirement but also wanted staff to lower the 244-unit annual, market-rate cap in the draft ordinance.
“I did say 150 units is reasonable,” Valezquez said regarding market-rate homes as long as there’s a mandate for affordable units in all developments.
Resendiz also said it makes sense to lower the annual cap for market-rate housing since the city is exempting affordable units from the limit in the draft growth plan.
There also appears to be a move away from charging developers “in-lieu-of fees” as an alternative to building low-income housing.
“We need to change our ways,” Velazquez said. “We need to require it. In-lieu-of fees just don’t work.”
The discussion occurred while the state is scrutinizing the city’s growth ordinance. But city planners have noted how California housing officials, who’ve been directed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to accommodate more housing growth, don’t have a problem with the annual cap. The state is mostly concerned about “time constraints” in the plan, such as a three-month application period for housing allocations followed by an additional “entitlement” process.
Abraham Prado, Hollister’s planning manager, offered the staff’s perspective and also provided a broader overview of development in recent years.
He noted there have been 1,184 units built since 2002, with another 1,017 under construction and 1,427 in the entitlement process but not yet under construction. The city, meanwhile, had a state-imposed building moratorium from 2002-2008 due to a 2002 wastewater spill caused by lacking infrastructure to accommodate rapid housing growth that occurred here two decades ago.
He said of 12 projects under construction right now, 295 homes have been built and 722 remain. Of those, 129 are considered affordable.
Before the hearing finished, the council heard from speakers.
Developer Dennis Martin said he opposes the cap on units. He said it could be “livable” for a few years but encouraged the city to move forward on its general plan update.
“Push it forward and get that prioritized,” he said.
Bob Tiffany argued the city doesn’t need a growth ordinance and also pushed for expediting the general plan update.
“In my mind, so much of this is about jobs, and we need more jobs in this community,” he said.
Realtor Tony LoBue said a growth cap can de-incentivize other areas of economic growth.
“Those stores and restaurants and things like that don’t come from the government,” he said. “It doesn’t come from you the elected officials. It comes from this beautiful thing called capitalism.”
On the other side of the issue, Leila Sadeghian the current system encourages “cookie-cutter” homes that all look the same and are ‘five inches apart.”
“I want Hollister to have more personality,” she said. “That’s how we grow the right way. I don’t want people to move here because they feel obligated to.”
Homes built in Hollister over recent years:
2009 – 33
2010 – 19
2011 – 166
2012 – 28
2013 – 39
2014 – 110
2015 – 68
2016 – 99
2017 – 310
2018 – 312
Source: City of Hollister