Valley Vision Stanislaus plan also to focus on transportation, climate change and housing quota

gstapley@modbee.comAugust 24, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textGarth Stapley
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: Regional water, growth, land-use and transportation; civil law, real estate fraud and special projects
    Bio: In his 19 years with The Bee, Garth Stapley has focused on city and county government
    E-mail: gstapley@modbee.com

— While most people likely associate Valley Vision Stanislaus with housing density choices, the eventual overall plan will include three additional efforts:

• Stanislaus Council of Governments' regional transportation plan: The document identifies dreams for road projects and is being updated this time with housing goals in mind.

• Sustainable Communities Strategy: This document is required by Senate Bill 375, a 2008 state law requiring that agencies address climate change.

• Regional Housing Needs Assessments: State quotas mandating that each city and county build so many homes over a number of years.

The last component is giving fits to local planners who, as in past cycles, say the quota is unrealistic.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development, hoping to spur adequate housing, in March produced an updated Stanislaus goal of 3,800 new homes each year for the next decade. Local leaders laughed and cried; only 147 house permits were issued last year in Stanislaus County, and 69 the year before.

In April, StanCOG issued a counteroffer of 2,451 per year and acknowledged that even that number is a pipe dream.

In June, the state suggested a 3,137-home compromise. That comes out to 30,600 new units over the next 9¾ years.

But StanCOG officials had crunched numbers even more and said they just cannot see constructing more than 19,623 in that time, or 2,013 per year — even lower than their first offer.

Jaylen French, a StanCOG associate planner, said the state assumes that Bay Area transplants again will provide the bulk of population growth here, as has happened in past cycles, while local leaders think that trend is over.

Running afoul of air goals

The state assumption runs against its aim of reducing vehicle emissions, because many newcomers would continue to travel to Bay Area jobs, said Riverbank Mayor Richard O'Brien. He is chairman of StanCOG's Valley Vision steering committee.

StanCOG's offer, based on a yearly growth rate of 1.4 percent, still is optimistic considering the 0.5 percent growth experienced in the past few years, O'Brien said.

Glen Campora, the state's assistant deputy director of housing policy development, has said he will try to attend a Sept. 3 steering committee meeting. "So they're still open to talk, which to me is a plus," O'Brien said.

Some StanCOG policy board members on Wednesday wanted to know the worst that could happen if StanCOG refuses to adopt the state quota.

French said groups advocating affordable housing have sued agencies whose goals don't mesh with the state's. For example, the California Rural Legal Assistance's Modesto office threatened legal action against Stanislaus County in 2010, saying its housing guidelines were flawed and would not meet the needs of poor people.

State and federal officials also threaten to withhold housing grants from defiant cities and counties.

Twelve percent of agencies in California have deficient housing elements, a section of agencies' growth-guiding documents, with an additional 9 percent in process. In this area, Patterson and Atwater are on the state's black list, while draft documents from Waterford, Ripon and Dos Palos did not meet deadlines.

Patterson has not been in compliance for three years, according to a letter from the state demanding more analysis.

Not the first time

This isn't the first time local leaders have chafed at Regional Housing Needs Assessments. During a six-year cycle ending in 2008, the state had demanded 15,347 housing units from Modesto, which produced 5,772.

State housing officials are expected to issue a final quota for StanCOG in late September. StanCOG leaders would propose a formula for splitting the burden among the county and its cities, asking for public input, and vote in November.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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