STATE SENDING CITIES LETTERS ON SOAR LIMITS.
State housing officials are pressing Ventura County cities to spend the next three months before the November election studying just how the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiatives will affect the county's ability to provide additional affordable housing units.
The California Department of Housing and Community Development first mentioned its concern about SOAR last month in a letter to Thousand Oaks, which recently had updated the housing element of its General Plan.
The letter commended the city for continuing to comply with state housing law but added that the SOAR initiatives could adversely affect the city's ability to do the same in the future.
``There are a number of things you should be looking at in forming good public policy and certainly preserving agricultural land is one of them,'' said Cathy Creswell, assistant deputy director of the state department. ``But we need to make sure that the goal of preserving agricultural land and open space won't exacerbate housing problems in the area.''
Now the state agency will send letters to each of the cities with an initiative on the ballot as well as to the county.
SOAR leader Steve Bennett said the state's concern was unfounded.
``There is this misunderstanding, this implication that if SOAR passes, there won't be another house built in Ventura County. That's just not true,'' Bennett said. ``All SOAR does is allow the citizens to be involved in the process. When politicians make changes in zoning or want to annex more land into a city, they need to run it by the citizens as well.''
The Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiative on the county ballot would require voter approval before agricultural land and open space could be rezoned for commercial or residential development. And related city initiatives in Camarillo, Oxnard, Santa Paula, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks would require similar voter approval before such land could be annexed and rezoned within a city's urban growth area.
Bennett noted that the initiatives also allow for cities to suspend the SOAR requirement to put developments to a vote of the people if the city fails to meet state housing law requirements.
But state officials warned that the SOAR initiatives could unduly constrain housing developments and preclude cities from complying with state housing laws. Creswell said cities and counties need to look at how such initiatives will affect a region's ability to absorb its share of growth in the state and to offer affordable housing.
Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley officials said that while the state's concerns for affordable housing are valid, the success or failure of the SOAR initiatives this fall will have little to do with their ability to boost affordable housing within city boundaries.
``Hillsides are all that's left around us, and it's pretty difficult to build cheap housing in hills,'' said Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton. ``So there may be a shortfall in $2 million homes in our future, but that's not usually what state housing officials are worried about.''
Thousand Oaks Senior Planner Larry Marquart said increasing the availability of affordable and senior housing remain target goals, but he added that those goals can be accommodated within city boundaries.
``The city was not planning to expand its boundaries anyway, so SOAR was not much of an issue in Thousand Oaks anyway. But from a countywide viewpoint, if the cities are not expanding then they need to concentrate on how to accommodate growth within their existing city limits,'' Marquart said.
In Moorpark, City Council and staff members have voiced concerns similar to the state's about meeting the area's surging housing needs.
Nelson Miller, the city's planning director, said that was one of the reasons Moorpark opted to place an alternative open-space preservation measure on the ballot that differed significantly from a proposed SOAR initiative for the city.
``I think that's the key - the concern about the limitations on development,'' he said.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Aug 20, 1998|
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