Residents protest city’s low-income housing plan

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The city is beginning a process to rezone nine parcels of land in order to comply with a state law requiring an adequate amount of affordable housing.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

Malibu residents voiced concerns last week about the city’s plan to rezone nine properties in town to comply with a state law requiring a minimum amount of low-income housing. State housing law mandates the cities plan to ensure a variety of affordable housing is available, and Malibu is seeking to do the rezoning to receive its Housing Element certification.

But residents complained at the May 25 scoping meeting for the draft Environmental Impact Report for the housing update that the amount of property slated for rezoning was too much, and could open the door for heavy development.

John Douglas, a consultant hired to advise the city during the process, explained that state law requires periodic updates to the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment for cities. The amount of low-income housing required for a particular city is determined by population forecasts made by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), a regional governmental organization that includes Malibu.

The most recent SCAG calculations, spanning the period of 2006 to 2014, determined Malibu required 441 units of low- and moderate-income housing. Low-income households are defined as a family of four with an annual income of $24,000 to $64,000, while moderate-income households make between $64,000 and $75,000.

Malibu has never submitted a housing element, despite the state law requiring it to do so. Douglas said if the city did not submit one, it risked court action from the state to take control over its planning processes.

Residents complained that SCAG’s forecast was grossly overestimated, especially since the 2010 U.S. Census results confirmed Malibu had only gained 70 people since 2000. They charged that SCAG applied assumptions for growth in Southern California as a whole to Malibu, arriving at an inflated number. Residents fear that rezoning the parcels is just the first step to high-density condominiums of 20 units or more.

“This could materially change the culture of the city, so we should get this right,” one resident said.

Douglas said that even if the forecasts are incorrect, the number is “cast in concrete at this point.”

Douglas said the only option available would be a legal challenge by the city to SCAG, but he advised against that. The City of Irvine several years ago filed an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging SCAG’s projection for its housing element, Douglas said, and an appeals court ruled that “state law does not provide for any judicial oversight for these numbers or this process.” Douglas said the best avenue available to the city now was to do the necessary rezoning.

In a telephone interview with The Malibu Times Tuesday, Frank Wen, who does population forecasting for SCAG, said, based on input provided from Malibu city officials in 2005, “at that time we had absolutely no indication of an over projection.”

Wen continued that results from the 2010 U.S. Census are being incorporated into the projections for the next Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which covers the years 2011 to 2021. SCAG officials said a planning survey would be sent to the City of Malibu at the end of June to gather input on the calculations for that period.

City officials at the meeting stressed the housing update did not mean new housing would be built, only that enough land be accordingly rezoned to allow the possibility of development. Private developers would then have to buy the land and build the housing units.

Former Malibu Planning Commissioner Les Moss, who was at the meeting, told The Malibu Times that despite SCAG’s questionable population projections, he doubted the likelihood of any meaningful development ever occurring. Moss said the cost of land in Malibu, combined with tight building restrictions in the municipal code, make building housing units to rent to low-income residents economically unfeasible.

“What has to be done next time is to ensure that whatever population growth data they use is correct,” Moss said.

The city is accepting written comments on the rezoning until June 2. The Draft Environmental Impact Report is expected to be available to the public for review in November.