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Councilman Ed Jones (Photo courtesy City of Thousand Oaks)
Monday, June 14, 2021
By Chris Frost
Tri County Sentry
 
Thousand Oaks-- The conversation about the city's preferred land-use map continues with Mayor Pro Tem Bob Engler saying the city is currently in the build-out phase.
 
"I appreciate what you're saying that Measure E and SB330 has identified the number of 81,000 units currently at 48 plus," he said."I appreciate what my colleague is saying about the state, and I will tell you a person in the state told me a few years ago when I brought up that argument that we are at build-out, and he said, no, you're not. You have 15,000 acres of open space."
 
He noted the City of Thousand Oaks has a ring of green that everyone treasures and the state does not see it as an asset; it sees it as an unused capacity to house people.
 
"As we look forward to this, how do we create a general plan that addresses that," he said. "Where do you see the state mandates coming down in the future? It's a difficult question and speculation, I understand."
 
City Attorney Tracy Noonan said every RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) housing cycle is different.
 
"This one has been pretty intense because of the hard push by the state for cities to provide more opportunities for housing development and the belief that cities are an impediment to the production of housing," she said.  "In the prior housing element, it wasn't as difficult, and the numbers weren't as high. It really is difficult to predict what is going to happen over the next RHNA housing cycles. The state is hyper-focused on housing. There are over 200 bills this year focused on housing."
 
Compared to the previous housing cycle, she said this one is more difficult.
 
"On top of SB8, which is the extension of 330; they're looking at SB9, which would automatically allow six units on a single-family residential lot," Engler said. "There's another one, SB6, which would mandate residential in all commercial zones. There's AB215 that says if we don't make our numbers, it would require a mid-cycle correction and mandate it to us. These are the types of things currently being discussed in Sacramento. My goal is to have the strongest general plan we can possibly have."
 
Noonan said this is why the city focused on a general plan.
 
"Rather than focusing on a housing element; focusing on a comprehensive general plan, my understanding of council's thought when you directed staff to do this is was to make sure we maintain as much local control as possible for the next 25 years," she said. "This is to make sure we are in a much better place, so we are not reacting to all these new state housing laws."
 
Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Pena said she signed four letters opposing housing bills that are not tethered to reality, such as eliminating all parking.
 
"Some heavy-duty bills are being considered, and I have to wonder who is driving this," she said. "There are well-known northern Sacramento lawmakers who are driving this, unfortunately, and we're all paying the price for that."
 
Councilman Ed Jones said the city could take it two ways regarding its best response.
 
"I don't understand the logic when the state over the last 10-year cycle has lost a million residents," he said. "As it has been pointed out, we have lost over 3,000. I don't know if the state, bearing that in mind, would see the illogic of what they're suggesting.  I hear our city attorney say that we want as strong a general plan we can have in the future, and I think suggests going out 25 years. On the other hand, legislatures come and go, especially ours, which has term limits. It might be wise just to plan for the next RHNA cycle and see if we have a change in the thinking in Sacramento. If we keep losing a million people every few years, logic would say that maybe eight years from now, the thinking would be different."
 
Noonan said the pattern of the legislature to impose housing mandates is not a recent occurrence and has been going on for the last 10 years. 
 
"It's a serious focus from the state legislature to add more housing," she said. "This current RHNA cycle is not just based on population projections; it's also based on existing need, based on overcrowding and costs per family."
 
Jones pointed out that the current situation is based on overcrowding, and they're asking the city to increase overcrowding to make the numbers.
 
"That doesn't sound logical," he said. "I see the term affordable being used, but when we approve housing, we get about 90 something percent market rate and 5 percent affordable. That's what's motivating them; they're not getting that either. They're getting a lot of market-rate housing, but it's getting less and less affordable in Thousand Oaks. When somebody pays $37 million for the Kmart site, do you think he's going to be able to build much affordable housing?"
 
When the city created its last general plan 50 years ago, he said they thought about the beautiful land and valley, the open space, and raw land.
 
"We have all this beauty, and to think that we are being motivated to do a major change in our general plan based on trying to prevent us from being punished, what a terrible reason to plan for the use of magnificent place we live in," he said.  
 
The remark drew applause from the audience.
 
He pointed out another Ventura County city, west of Thousand Oaks, and said it was constructed on a flat plain, the Oxnard Plain.
 
"There is nothing pretty to look at," Jone said. "I'm sorry; I don't mean to criticize, but I didn't name the town. There are no beautiful views. I would hate to think that if we are going to preserve open space, as Councilman McNamee said, we're going to have to build up. If we start building up, you're going to eliminate all these views. Not only did we call for more low density in the original general plan, but we also had a Hillside Ordinance to protect the ridgelines and high vertical cuts. We had an Oak Tree Ordinance to protect the oak trees. This was all done for the beauty of this valley. We're so lucky that we have it. In the name of satisfying Sacramento, to obscure this place, I think we should fight to oppose it."
 
This story continues each week at www.tricountysentry.com.