Affordable Housing &
by David A. Storer, AICP
September 29, 2005
An impartial analysis on
AFFORDABLE HOUSING & LAND USE
In February 2004, at the request of the El Dorado Hills Community Services District, I spoke to a
group of approximately 30 people regarding the benefits of incorporation. I was doing so as an
employee of the City of Elk Grove, in the capacity of Assistant City Manager. My professional
experience at that time involved having worked for four other local governments in Northern
California, consisting of a mix of small, medium and large jurisdictions on both sides of the
City/County divide. Further, I had recently left the City of Folsom’s employ (Fall of 2002) where I
had been the Planning Director for eight years and had the experience of assisting in the
incorporation efforts of Citrus Heights, Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova (as liaison for the City of
Folsom) as these proposed new communities considered the benefits of incorporation and began
their journey through the LAFCO process.
My recollection today of the February 2004 presentation is still one of bewilderment. Instead of
fielding questions regarding the benefits of incorporation (i.e., service levels, land use, taxes), I
spent at least an hour fielding questions around the issue of affordable housing and the legal
requirements for the provisions of affordable housing that would be in play upon a successful
What really happens if the vote to incorporate is successful?
A Local Voice
Should the incorporation effort succeed in November 2005, residents and business owners alike
in El Dorado Hills will have five newly elected officials representing them in short order. This new
representation will, be in addition to those serving as supervisors on the El Dorado County Board
of Supervisors. The new City Council will be free to create Boards and Commissions to address
local issues. One of the most important Commissions for the new City Council to create first will
be the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission will be made up of local residents from
El Dorado Hills who will advise the City Council on land use matters, including development
The opportunity to serve on a local board is not limited. Other
Commissions can also deal with land use but to a lesser degree, namely a Parks &
Recreation Commission, a Design Review Board, a Historical District Commission, and Open
Space Committee, to name just a few. Citizens can also serve on other Boards and
Commissions that the new City Council may choose to create – a Library Commission, an Arts
Council or even a Landscaping and Lighting District Committee.
Additionally, come July 1, 2006 – when the proposed incorporation takes effect (if successful), El
Dorado Hill-ians will also have consolidated the governmental structure by dissolving two
Community Service Districts (El Dorado Hills CSD and the Springfield Meadows CSD) and
dissolved a County Service Area (CSA 9) which deals with storm drainage. This change/rePaper
organization in government oversight translates into the respective service districts’
responsibilities/obligations being transferred to the new City.
A classic case of “less is more”…
A Regional Voice The new community of El Dorado Hills will also likely share a voice with 29 other communities in the six county regional government structure known as SACOG – the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. It is at this body that Federal and State funding occurs for major local
transportation projects. Additionally, SACOG is responsible for the regional allocations of
affordable housing units. Some things stay the same Through all the excitement that comes from the creation of a new City and a new City Council, one must remember that County Supervisors continue to represent those residents and businesses alike in the cities within the county – as well as those people in the unincorporated areas.
For instance, El Dorado County will continue to provide governance (after the new city is
created) for countywide services such as healthcare, libraries, social services and the courts. This
is not insignificant. The adage, “the more the merrier” in terms of representation only applies here
if you subscribe to the view that more government is likely to provide better service.
So what must one know about “Affordable Housing” prior to voting in November?
The Law One thing is for certain. California law requires that the new City will be required to have a
General Plan to guide development.
“State law requires that each city and each county adopt a general plan containing
the following seven components or “elements”: land use, circulation, housing,
conservation, open-space, noise, and safety (Government Code Sections 65300 et
seq.). At the same time, each jurisdiction is free to adopt a wide variety of
additional elements covering subjects of particular interest to that jurisdiction such as
recreation, urban design, or public facilities.” – Citizen’s Guide to Planning, January, 2001 edition
The General Plan is a policy document “…and most consist of: (1) a written text discussing the
community’s goals, objectives, policies, and programs for the distribution of land use; and, (2) one
or more diagrams or maps illustrating the general location of existing and future land uses.” This
Plan must be prepared and adopted by the new City Council within 30 months of incorporation,
unless extensions are requested and subsequently granted by the Director of the State Office of
Planning & Research (OPR). Extensions can be granted “not to exceed two years” and must be
done in consultation with the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
The Housing Element of a general plan is the only element that is required by law to be updated
on a periodic basis (at least every five years).
As stated above, the new General Plan must contain (among other required Elements) a Housing
Element. This particular section of the General Plan will be required to contain an analysis of how
the new City intends to provide housing for all economic segments of the community and “identify
adequate sites” for Affordable Housing. More specifically, this means that the new City will need
to conduct an assessment of housing needs and create an inventory of resources and constraints
relevant to the meeting of these needs. (Government Code 65583 (a)). The City will need to
create an “inventory of land available for residential development, including vacant sites and sites
having potential for redevelopment, and an analysis of the relationship of zoning and public
facilities and services to these sites” (Government Code Section 65583(a) (3))
The law will allow the new City of El Dorado Hills to identify adequate sites “by a variety of
methods, including, but not limited to, redesignation of property to a more intense land use
category and increasing the density allowed within one or more categories”. (Government Code
The General Plan must also have a Land Use diagram which shows areas within the community
where affordable housing units could be built.
In addressing affordable housing needs, the new City of El Dorado Hills must learn from the
recent lessons learned by its neighboring jurisdiction – Folsom. The City Council of the City of
Folsom adopted a new General Plan in the early 1990’s which contained a Housing Element that
was not certified by HCD. It was ruled by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly to be
in violation of State law almost seven years later, having been brought to the fore by a housing
advocacy group – Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC) on behalf of a Folsom resident. It
wasn’t until after much local debate and heated community-wide discussions that numerous properties throughout the City were re-zoned (including some significant City owned properties) to show that Folsom had “adequate sites” available to provide for the opportunity for the development of affordable housing.
The Process (something the LAFCO FEIR didn’t elaborate on)
It is during the afore-mentioned 30 month general plan preparation time-frame – from July 1,
2006 to January 1, 2009, that SACOG will have embarked on its update and distribution of
affordable housing units associated with the 2007 Regional Housing Needs Assessment.
The distribution of housing needs fall into four household income groups. The four income
category definitions (used in the RHNP process), based on information from the
U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and State Health and Safety Codes,
Very Low Income (VLI) – up to 50 percent of the area median family income
Low or Lower Income (LI) – between the very low income limit and 80 percent of the area median
Moderate income – between the lower income limit and 120 percent of the area median family
Above Moderate income – exceeding the moderate income limit
*Note – All of the above income limits may have adjustments made for unusually high or low area
income or housing costs and for household size.
SACOG is also required to provide the projected new housing unit targets by income group for
the ending date of the plan for the six-county area. These new “allocations” would supercede the
allocations associated with the 2002 Regional Needs Housing Plan (RHNP).
SACOG makes it very clear in the RHNP to tell agencies what the “allocations” are – and what
they are NOT…
“2. The allocations are intended to be used by jurisdictions when
updating their housing elements as the basis for assuring that
adequate sites and zoning are available to accommodate at
least the number of units allocated. They are not housing
quotas that jurisdictions must achieve within the time frame of
their next housing element update Many jurisdictions, as well as other groups having an interest in affordable housing issues, often treat the housing allocations as a
numerical quota that must be achieved. This is not the intent of the
process, nor is it what the California Department of Housing and
Community Development (HCD) is looking for when reviewing
local housing elements. The State recognizes that the provision of
affordable housing is largely market-driven, and that funding
subsidies and other incentives to provide affordable housing are
very limited. One of the few major tools available to local
jurisdictions to influence the development of affordable housing is
the power to regulate land use. Thus, breaking down development
barriers, such as exclusionary zoning and growth controls, are the
major goals of State law.” (RHNP, page 4)
Assuming that legislative changes do not alter the process in the meantime, the process for
SACOG to produce a new RHNP actually begins well before any City is officially assigned its fairshare of the regions projected housing need allocation. The State HCD, with the assistance of the State Department of Finance (DOF), will transmit the region’s numbers of projected housing
needs to SACOG in June 2006. SACOG staff will then in turn review the State’s numbers and
begin its process of assignment to member jurisdictions. The new City of El Dorado Hills (and
other SACOG member jurisdictions) will be given its allocation by SACOG in July 2007 with the
Draft of the new RHNP. The new City of El Dorado Hills will have the opportunity to comment on,
and propose revisions, to the RHNP within 90 days of the adoption by the SACOG board of the
RHNP. The government code outlines the process for appeals and the standards that must be
This all means that the new City of El Dorado Hills will have its assigned allocation of affordable
housing units (the VLI and LI that most people are concerned about) within a year of
incorporation. This allocation will be separate and distinct from the current allocation that El
Dorado Hills – the unincorporated area – now shares with the other unincorporated areas of El
Dorado County. The new allocation will be the new City’s share of projected housing units that it
should try to produce (during the period of its Housing Element) and, as a matter of course, the
number of units it will be required to identify land for (“adequate sites and zoning”) as it prepares
its new general plan.
But what happens in the meantime? How many affordable housing units does the new City of El
Dorado Hills have to produce until a new allocation is determined?
The answer to the first question is… “nothing happens”. No one from the State or SACOG is
going to call the City and ask for the City to show where it is going to provide for the VLI and LI
units. They won’t call primarily because the State and SACOG will be
unable to tell the City what the appropriate split for the current allocation is, and furthermore, the
new City will be operating under the County General Plan anyway until a new one is adopted,
with County staffing.
The answer to the second question, according to officials at HCD, is somewhere above zero and
the current allocation for the County – minus those units that have been produced to date.
Back to the first (and more important question). The likelihood of having a “current” allocation
determined by SACOG for the period from July 1, 2006, to a date that can’t be determined exactly
(whenever a new general plan is adopted for El Dorado Hills) is very unlikely. In speaking recently
with Ken Hough, Director of Community Planning & Operations for SACOG, regarding this matter,
Mr. Hough stated that “SACOG staff will be focused on the new RHNP and we have not budgeted
staff resources for this particular calculation”. He further amplified and stated that “the focus will
be on the new update, and I would need direction possibly from the full SACOG Board to shift
resources – which I think is unlikely to be granted”.
On a scale of one-to-ten on the importance of affordable housing on the issue of incorporation, in
my opinion, “it’s a three”. Certainly something for staff and the new City Council to be aware of
but not “up there” when it comes to the bigger picture of fiscal viability…or should I say “fiscal
feasibility”… To be sure, the leaders of the new City of El Dorado Hills must recognize their
responsibility to use the powers vested in them to facilitate the development of affordable housing
and address this vital statewide need. The need for housing for all economic segments of our
society exists today and should be addressed by the new City of El Dorado Hills beginning on its
first day of existence. The preparation of a new General Plan is the first step in the process, and
should be completed with expediency and with much public input.
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