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    News in Depth

    Disclosed @ Planning Comm'n: City Mgt. Says LB Has Met -- And Exceeded -- Regionally Required Level of Housing Units

    Revelation Comes While Considering "ConvertaBelle" Proposal To Allow Splitting Single Homes / Condos Into Two Units

  • 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:

    While the Duplex [ConvertaBelle] Concept may benefit many households in Long Beach, it is not clear that the Condominium [ConvertaBelle] Apartment Concept would provide an attractive living situation to residents. There are concerns regarding the proposed lack of parking and impacts of allowing density that exceeds current standards. The recent history of Long Beach rezoning has been in response to requests to down-zone areas in order to disallow proposals that would not provide adequate parking and that are out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood. There is concern that this proposal would result in a similar response.

    The ConvertaBelle concept is an interesting method of producing income for households but may have disruptive impacts on the existing community. Instead, the applicant may propose such a concept in a manner that meets permitted density, parking requirements and usable open space. The applicant may take advantage of existing incentives to provide affordable housing or to propose higher density proposals in downtown areas and on regional corridors where zoning would permit the proposed densities.

    It is recommended that four community meetings be conducted throughout the city to review this proposal. The four community meetings would require that the applicant coordinate with the Community Planning staff to conduct notices to all the Neighborhood Associations and a newspaper ad stating the topic and relevant information for the meetings. Payment for the notices and the newspaper ad would be funded by the applicant.

    Mr. Bellehumeur took issue with aspects of city staff's report and provided supportive in-person podium testimony by Roger Peter Porter (architecture), Kim Huntley (LB Affordable Housing Coalition), Gary Hamrick (Meyer, Mohaddes Associates, parking) and Andrew Kincaid (LB Affordable Housing Coalition).

    In a follow-up conversation after the Planning Commission meeting, Mr. Kincaid told that the ConvertaBelle concept "isn't about density, it's about flexibility." He added, "I don't see any comparison to the 'crackerbox" developments of the 1980s. This is about homeownership, about investment and private ownership."

    He said the ConvertaBelle concept doesn't change density because "what you're doing is basically having a convertible wall that (in the single family version) can be changed from a two bedroom to a bachelor plus a one bedroom" (i.e. the same net number of bedrooms).

    Mr. Bellehumeur noted that he first brought his firm's concept to the City Council several years ago...and suggested that if a decision to proceed wasn't forthcoming he and his supporters might consider "throwing in the towel" on plans for a LB project altogether.

    Mr. Bellehumeur urged the Planning Commission to recommend that the City Council authorize staff to help develop a single family and condominium prototype ConvertaBelle project to prove the viability of the concept in LB.

    "Once proven, two of the state's top elected officials would be prepared, as they have already said, to sponsor a bill allowing the ConvertaBelle concept to be constructed statewide," Mr. Bellehumeur said. He added that "this proposal is not far from the recent expansion of the state's 'Granny-flat' ordinance."

    (Asked in a subsequent telephone conversation with who the two elected state officials were, Mr. Bellehumeur declined to identify them for the moment but stuck by his testimony.)

    In the end, the Council-appointed Planning Commission was polite but to support further proceedings including four additional public meetings -- with public input -- as recommended by staff.

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