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Saturday, June 5, 2021

By Chris Frost

Tri County Sentry



Thousand Oaks-- The conversation about the city's preferred land-use map continues with a general plan update and City Manager Steven Powers saying the action about the land use map and a general plan update has been a long time coming.


The city held a workshop on the land-use map, and they asked for community input. Residents want high-density vibrant mixed-use as the city moves forward.


"In 2018, the council discussed a general plan update," he said. "After multiple council meetings, presentations and discussions, on February 26, 2019, the council unanimously tasked staff to embark on a comprehensive general plan update. To achieve the goals of defining the community's vision for the decade ahead, maintaining the quality of life, managing future growth, and protecting existing single-family neighborhoods as much as possible."


The city held "dozens of outreach meetings over the last two years" and 15 general plan advisory committee meetings. They also conducted surveys and maintained consistent marketing, media, and print presence.


"Earlier this year, this outreach was folded into three draft alternative maps that incorporated the entirety of the theoretical city under Measure E," he said. "Those maps have been steadily refined with input, and what's before you this evening is representative of that."


He said the plan is not about any individual projects.


"The map before you is a broad amalgamation of community involvement and seeks to strike a balance," Powers said. "It's not perfect, as community interests and emotions vary, as we continue to hear in various comments. It's understandable in a community as diverse as ours."


Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Pena said at the May 18 special council meeting, council members heard the staff and consultant's presentation and make statements. The group also heard almost five hours of public comments.


"The next step is for the council to consider the preferred land-use map and provide direction to staff on any potential changes to the draft map," she said. 


Community Development Director Kelvin Parker, in conjunction with consultant Matt Raimi and Community Development Advisor Mark Towne, ensuring the city council considers all aspects of the land-use map and understands the council's direction.


Towne said the city did consider a housing element-only option that would have required updating several other elements of the plan.


"We also looked at a focused update that would have added circulation and economic development, and that was the direction the council chose to go," he said. "Since then, we've continued to move in that direction."


He noted the land-use map only affects a small portion of the city, less than 3 percent.


"Our existing neighborhoods will remain the same; our open space, parks, and public facilities will stay the same," he said. "The idea is to be true and honor the original general plan and the great foundation it provided us, and also a look to the future."


He outlined the difference between a general plan and a housing element and said a general plan is a long-term community vision, 25 years, and considers a wide variety of topics.


"A housing element can be seen as a subset of that," he said. It's an eight-year cycle defined by the state and is focused on housing quantity and type. The focus has been on the big picture in the long term."


Some members of the public thought there should be additional public engagement, and he said the city undertook a lot of effort to get the word out.


"We used a lot of different media and had thousands of people participate," he said. "We've done our level best to reflect that input."


They heard comments about letting Senate Bill 330 expire, the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, and it's currently planned to expire in 2025. 


"There's also a bill, SB8, to extend it, and we fully anticipate that it will be extended," he said. "They are very firm on their desire to support housing throughout the state."


Towne said there are no seven-story buildings proposed in Thousand Oaks, and two plans with taller buildings were deleted. There are a number of areas in the city where 75-foot buildings are allowed, specifically at The Oaks Mall."


People who are worried about increased zoning should worry.


"There will be no upzoning and the neighborhood low category, which has been the focus of such comments," he said. We have stated in the past that subcategories will be developed for land use in low and medium categories. They will be calibrated to reflect the density on the ground and will limit potential future growth in those areas." 


The land-use map will be analyzed, he said, and it will be in complete compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. It will evaluate traffic infrastructure, schools, parks, and state law require that it does that.


"That will be conducted after the preferred land-use map is identified," he said. 


There will be no vote on the map, and the city will continue its process based on community input.


Councilman Al Adam interjected and corrected Towne about having less than three percent of the city involved with the general plan update.


"That would be where the true change is," he said. "I would call it potential true change. The original general plan, written in 1970, called for over 200,000 people in Thousand Oaks, and it never happened. It called for an airport here in Thousand Oaks, and it never happened. It called for a college on Lindero Canyon Road, and it never happened. This whole area we're sitting in should be a series of motels, and it never happened. If we're planning for the future, we don't know what that future is going to be. A lot of this is potential, and I appreciate you pointing out that there are no seven-story buildings being planned, no neighborhoods are going to be upzoned, and there are not going to be any apartment complexes in neighborhoods. The slow growth we've had over the past 10 years, I'm quite sure, will continue."


Senior Planner Iain Holt said questions arose about why the city can't meet its regional housing needs allocation. 


"That is the number that has been assigned to the city for the housing element eight-year cycle," he said. "The main reason why we can't rely on the land-use map to meet that number is because the land-use map is based on the ultimate capacity.  When you are planning for housing in the eight-year cycle, as required by the state, there is a variety of housing criteria based on site feasibility and how many units the site can yield.  Once the land-use map has been endorsed by the council, the staff will analyze the sites as far as the feasibility. There's a variety of things we have to take into consideration as far as the site characteristics, the physical features, the size and shape of the lot, other pre-existing conditions, the existing buildings, the age of the buildings, the floor ratio, and its location, in relation to other services within the city, as well as transit and other community centers."


Holt also asked if the properties are competitive to get affordable housing funding.


"The size of the property comes in the criteria," he said. "Things between a half-acre of the 10 acres are considered ideal in terms of housing. There's a variety of other things, like land value to improvement value, vacancy rates, and owner interest. Some things that have to be considered are actually long-term leaseholds."


Holt said the city also must look at the city's past development trends.


"The production of affordable housing here has been mostly reliant on high-density bonuses, and as far as what we can count, sites that have been identified previously, we're limited, especially as it relates to the lower-income categories," he said. We cannot recycle those sites if they have not been developed in the last cycle or the previous cycle."


This story will continue weekly at www.tricountysentry.com.