Monterey County followed some unique rules for the April 8 Housing Advisory Committee (HAC) hearing to consider an application by 161 homeowners at the Moro Cojo affordable housing project to reduce the affordability restrictions on their homes from permanent to 15 years from date of purchase.
If approved, that application would result in most of the homes jumping from affordable to market rate prices during 2015. Here are the unique rules employed at that hearing:
RULE #1 was that HAC members were not informed about any comments that arrived during the eight days preceding the hearing. This was handy since it excluded an April 6 letter from Coastal Commission staff stating that “Commission staff believes that 161 units is a significant amount of housing for lower-income residents of North Monterey County and the loss of these units would be clearly inconsistent with the LCP (Local Coastal Plan) and Coastal Act requirements to protect them.”
Rule #1 also excluded my April 1 letter and LandWatch’s April 7 letter.
RULE #2 was that the environmental analysis for the application considers only the application’s consistency with policies in the Monterey County general plan, which do not apply because the Moro Cojo project is in the county’s coastal zone. However, the analysis does not consider the application’s consistency with policies in the North County Coastal Land Use Plan, which do apply because the project is in the North County Coastal zone. That was handy because it allowed the environmental analysis to avoid evaluating the environmental consequences of a North County Coastal Land Use Plan policy that requires replacement of affordable housing units on a one-to-one basis when existing affordable units are eliminated.
RULE #3 was the most handy of all. It was to never mention the state law that requires the California Coastal Commission to “take appropriate steps to ensure that coastal development conditions existing as of January 1, 2002, relating to affordable housing are enforced and do not expire during the term of the permit.” (Public Resources Code § 30614.) By never mentioning the state law, county staff keeps alive the illusion that the 1994 coastal development permit condition requiring permanent affordability can be amended.
RULE #4 was not to post the 102-page staff report for the April 8 hearing on the HAC website until AFTER April 8. That was also handy because it prevented pesky members of the public from learning beforehand what staff had (and had not) told the HAC in preparation for the April 8 hearing.
I arrived late to the standing-room-only April 8 hearing but was kindly given a seat among the 50 or so Moro Cojo residents in attendance. The residents’ testimony was along the lines that if they weren’t allowed to sell their homes at market rate, they couldn’t get home improvement loans and that would result in the currently well-kept Moro Cojo project deteriorating into a “rat’s nest.” That claim was contradicted in part by a county staff member stating that owners of affordability-restricted homes are in fact eligible for home improvement loans, so I guess the gist should be understood as meaning that if the currently price-restricted 15-year-old homes can’t be sold for market rate rather than income-restricted affordable prices, home improvement loans can’t be as large as they would be if the home’s value were based on market rates.
I was the only person to speak against the application. I explained about the letters the HAC hadn’t seen. Staff distributed copies AFTER I mentioned them. Since I don’t speak Spanish, I was dependent on the translator when I stated my advice to those listening to the Spanish translation that if eventually they’re told that their application can’t be approved because approving it would be illegal, they should ask their leaders why they were asked to show up for the April 8 hearing. I sure hope the translator translated that exactly as I spoke it.
HAC members worked with the information they’d been given and tried to fashion some compromise between permanent affordability and 15-year affordability. However, they were unable to agree on a compromise so the hearing is continued to May 27. I don’t know whether the unique rules will be followed on May 27.
Despite the April 8 unique rules that resulted in HAC members not learning about Coastal Commission staff’s April 6 letter, LandWatch’s April 7 letter, or my April 1 letter, and their not being told about applicable county policies and state law or the environmental consequences resulting from the applicable North Monterey County Coastal policy requiring a one-to-one replacement for the 161 affordable homes, nonetheless there was one aspect of the hearing that I really did find refreshing and very much appreciate. And that is because the April 8 hearing was the first time in my 20-plus years of attending hearings related to the Moro Cojo project that I was not accused of being racist.
I sincerely appreciate that.
Jane Haines is a retired lawyer who has been heavily involved in issues related to affordable housing.