Why Does the City Approve More Housing Development?
A common question that is asked in Camarillo, as well as probably most communities in California, is "Why does the City approve more housing development?" This question arises most commonly when a residential development is proposed during the public review process or when construction commences on a new neighborhood. Provided below is an explanation of the reasons cities must accommodate residential development.
The State of California has legislated mandates requiring cities to follow certain procedures supporting residential development. Failure to comply results in legal and monetary consequences for a community. The procedures and consequences are outlined in the following sections below.
The State housing requirements stem from a recognition that we must plan for the future. The population of California will increase and the best way to compensate for that increase is to plan for it.
Even with good planning, California has fallen short of its housing needs, resulting in a housing shortage. The State Department of Housing and Community Development estimates 180,000 new residential units must be constructed each year to eventually catch up with housing needs. Lack of affordable housing has become the top issue for our state, and is considered a crisis. Compared to all other states, California has the second worst housing affordability index. The index compares the average home price to the average income for each state. Presently, less than one-third of Californians can afford an average-priced home.
State Housing Procedures
Cities are required to have a General Plan which acts as the masterplan for the community. Two key chapters in a General Plan are the Housing Element and Land Use Element.
The Housing Element provides goals, policies and actions the City proposes to meet the projected housing needs for all segments of the City's population. The Housing Element must be updated every eight years and be approved by the State Department of Housing and Community Development.
The projected housing needs for Camarillo are based on our fair share of the region's housing needs as determined by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). SCAG sets our share through a process known as the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) [pronounced "REE-NA"]. Housing Element law requires that the City provide an adequate amount of residentially-zoned acreage to accommodate the RHNA allocation. Our current allocation is 2,224 residential units for the period from 2014 to 2021. Beginning in 2021, Camarillo will be given a new allocation. If we have not zoned enough property in the City to accommodate our current RHNA allocation, the shortfall will be carried forward and added to the City's future RHNA allocation. It is possible that when we receive our new allocation we will need to rezone some properties to comply with RHNA.
The Land Use Element identifies where various land uses, such as residential, industrial, and commercial development, are to be located in Camarillo. The City's Zoning Code provides necessary details lacking in the Land Use Element to specify the rules a developer must meet to gain City approval to be able to construct a project in our community. The approval is referred to as an "entitlement" that entitles the developer to certain legal rights. If the City denies an entitlement to a development proposal that otherwise meets the zoning requirements, then the City can be sued by the developer. In most cases, the court will grant an entitlement, many times allowing a lower quality development than the City would require.
Consequences for Not Complying with State Housing Procedures
The City is not required to construct housing. However, it is required to provide sufficient residentially zoned land to comply with RHNA, and must not impose constraints to meeting the regional housing allocation. Said another way, if no one chooses to develop in Camarillo, the City is not penalized by the State. However, if any one of the following occurs, then the City will be penalized.
- The City imposes unduly burdensome regulations preventing housing development.
- The City does not have an approved Housing Element.
- The City denies residential development proposals that are consistent with the Housing Element and Zoning Code.
Penalties can range from financial impacts to loss of local control of development decisions. If the State finds that a City is not complying with proper housing procedures, the State can limit the City's access to State funding. Camarillo routinely receives millions of dollars in State funds. To be cut off from this resource would significantly lower the quality of services we currently enjoy.
The State could also choose to usurp the City's land use authority and control. Through legal action brought by the State, a developer, or a housing advocacy group, a court may step in and approve housing projects. Typically when this occurs, the development may be larger, denser, or of a lower design quality than if the City had approved the development.
Cities throughout California have become more resistant to fulfilling housing goals due to political pressures from their communities to oppose new residential development. This has led to the housing crisis. In response, the State Legislature has introduced over 100 bills in the 2017 legislative session to address California's housing shortage. The result will be a shift of land use control from the local community to one-size-fits-all state control.
Some loss of local control has already occurred in recent years. For example, some parking standards in Camarillo have been affected by recent state legislation that could lead to more crowded parking problems in the future. So, while Camarillo has benefited from a well-managed, slower growth policy for decades, it is probable that future state mandates will impact the City's range of control over development.
Camarillo's Managed Growth
Camarillo has a managed growth policy that limits the amount of residential allocations to 400 per year. This resulted in a historic growth rate that was slower than surrounding communities. Also, the City has very high design standards that have resulted in a quality community that is attractive, safe, and highly desirable. The results demonstrate that the City has applied a management strategy that successfully blends state housing mandates with stringent local controls.
Even with a good housing strategy, the public process to review residential development can be contentious and emotionally charged. This is natural, particularly when residents are not aware of the State mandates imposed on Camarillo. Hopefully the information provided above sheds a helpful light on the reasons why housing continues to be built in Camarillo.