Developer presses Planning Comm'n to OK demo projects in LB, says it's successfully done them elsewhere; Planning Comm'n votes for add'l proceedings with public input
(March 9, 2004) -- During a colloquy with members of LB's Planning Commission, city management has disclosed what some neighborhood activists have long suspected: the City of Long Beach has met -- and exceeded -- its regionally specified number of housing units.
"[W]ith our RHNA [pronounced RI-nah] numbers, our Regional Housing Allocation Need, we've actually met and exceeded that," said Beth Stochl, Manager of City Hall's Housing Services.
Ms. Stochl made her statement during the Planning Commission's Feb. 19 consideration of a proposal by State-Wide Development, a firm headed by former LB Harbor Commissioner Alex Bellehumeur, which seeks to construct housing units both in traditional detached home and attached condominium form that can be split into two-units and/or reconsolidated over time.
The colloquy ensued after Mr. Bellehumeur indicated his firm's "ConvertaBelle" concept "can address once and for all something you have never been able to address in this community, and that is taking care of the city's requirement in providing housing for low and moderate income housing."
That drew a response from Planning Commissioner Lynn Moyer, who said that while she appreciated the aspirations in the ConvertaBelle proposal, she felt more public input is called for and added:
"I disagree with you [Mr. Bellehumeur]. I think we have more than our share of low and moderate income housing. And you can argue till the cows come home, but I think Long Beach has done its share, and more than its share, and when people want to move on, there isn't enough other housing to move on to. They move away from the City of Long Beach."
After additional colloquy, Ms. Stochl commented on Mr. Bellehumeur's testimony. Prefacing her remarks by noting that LB ranks tenth in the nation in terms of poverty, Ms. Stochl said this "speaks to the need for affordable housing" and added the newsworthy nuance that LB has, in fact, met and exceeded its fair share regional responsibility to provide housing units under the Regional Housing Needs Assessment [RHNA]. [The RHNA, prepared in 1996 and applicable through 2005, was prepared by the Southern California Association of Governments under state law.]
By coincidence, City Hall's audio tape ran out as Ms. Stochl concluded her comments; we captured all the audio available on the original tape and subsequently phoned Ms. Stochl to see if she had additional matter to add.
Ms. Stochl indicated the tape basically captured the essence of her Planning Commission comments...and added that she does believe there is a housing crisis.
"I say this based on income, overcrowding and the age of our housing stock," Ms. Stochl said, adding "The fact that we are 10th nationally in poverty level shows we need affordable housing."
She said that for roughly 27% of LB residents, 50% of their income goes to housing. "For all these reasons, I believe we do have a significant housing crisis, and from my viewpoint it is a very significant crisis for low and very low income residents."
Ms. Stochl did reiterate that LB has met and exceeded its housing unit allocations currently prescribed by SCAG's RHNA. She noted that after 2005, as cities revise the Housing Element to their general plans SCAG will prepare a new RHNA housing allocation.
A city staff report said the "ConvertaBelle" concept intends that "this type of flexibility would allow for owners to obtain rental income at times when they either do not need the additional space, or need the funds for things like qualifying for the purchase of the units, supporting college age or grown children who have left the home or after retirement."
City staff's report noted that the concept was originally suggested for unspecified blighted areas...but Redevelopment staff "have expressed their opinion that any such changes to housing policy should apply on a city-wide basis rather than only in Redevelopment Project Areas."
Mr. Bellehumeur said his firm seeks to do demonstration projects in LB...and his firm has already completed ConvertaBelle projects in other cities over a period spanning nearly forty years. He acknowledged community concerns over density stemming from the City Council's 1980's decision to invite increased density in some parts of the city (which brought now-discredited "crackerbox" apartments to former single family home lots.)
Mr. Bellehumeur stressed that ConvertaBelle projects are different...and years of experience with them in other cities showed they did not become blighted because they were owner-occupied and encouraged pride of ownership.
City staff summarized its opinion of the ConvertaBelle proposal in a written report given to Planning Commissioners which stated in pertinent part: