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Saturday, February 4, 2023
HomeNewsGateway NewsTranscript: Planning Commission meeting -- February 8, 2022

Transcript: Planning Commission meeting — February 8, 2022

Planning Commission meeting
February 8, 2022

This is a transcription of the part of the meeting.  The full meeting was 2 hours 9 minutes.
The video can be viewed on YouTube, link here.

By highlighting specific phrases and passages, the comments and opinions that are expressed by speakers at the meeting will stand out — and can be viewed here far more easily than by watching a two-hour video.

The video times are showed, so you can easily jump to that section of the video.
This transcription is NOT in chronological time sequence.

Note:  This transcription is believed to be an accurate rendition of what was said.  Discrepancies between what was spoken and what is written here are not believed to alter the intent or meaning of the speaker.  Many of the “uh” and “you know” and “um” words have been removed.

Highlights have been added in bold.  Some asides are in [brackets].
Some statements have been enlarged.
Commentary, notes, and opinions have been added in red.
Notes and comments are indented.


What is included:

  • Strong points are made — points that should be noted, remembered, and not ignored.
  • Often when asked a direct question, Community Development Directory David Loya does not specifically answer the question.  The Planning Commissioners are not at fault for not catching this in “real time” at the meeting — it’s not so easy to do when in a discussion.  But by seeing and reading the transcript, this aspect of not truly responding to the question stands out.

 

Statements and questions from:

(Click on the link to go directly to that spot.)

 

When reading this transcript, keep in mind that this is from early February, 2022 — not a lot of time after the draft Gateway plan was released.  Much has gone on since then, in terms of our increased knowledge of the plan.


The Transcription

Carlisle Douglas — public comment
Time:  47:28

Good Evening.  My name is Carlisle Douglas, I reside at 1588 J Street.

Let me begin by saying that in general I’m in favor of planned development in West Arcata.

But I would really like to say to Planning Commission members tonight that to emphasize how important to Arcata’s future it is that you all do your due diligence on this Gateway Plan this year and really understand the changes to procedures and codes that it contains.  ​​Please seek expert independent counsel outside of city staff to interpret the ratifications of passing the Gateway Plan.

Second​,​ I would like to ask all concerned citizens to take a moment to shift your attention away from building height and really focus in on the language of the Gateway Plan that provides for streamlining and fast tracking the approval of developers’ proposals. This in combination with a shift to form-based code opens a path to a significant change in the character of Arcata.

Third​,​ I’d like for all of us to question the sense of urgency that is being promoted around approving this plan.  The development would happen over the next 20 years but a vote to deviate from our existing General Plan is being pushed this year.

While the state of California did devise a formula and mandate cities to grow, most California cities are finding they are unable to comply with unrealistic expectations. Why should Arcata be in the minority of cities who creatively figures out how to comply with a State mandate for growth that does not take into account our unique geography?

And lastly I’d like to plant the seed that we make a plan for our own city of Arcata to start buying land in West Arcata and create resident-owned housing on city-owned land.  This model has been very successful in other cities across the country.  Thank you.


Planning Commission Vice-Chair:  Judith Mayer
Time:  16:08

When can we expect to see a draft of the Gateway Zoning Code?  I know on the schedule it said 20 22 23 [not clear what she means by this] , but it’s very difficult to look at this in the level of detail I think we’re being asked to look at it, without having that draft code before us.

Community Development Director David Loya’s response:
Yeah, that’s a great question.  We have to get the framework in place first, and so to make sure that we’re on target with these policies, and when the council gives us the go ahead with that then we’ll start working on Gateway Zoning Code.  We’ll be able to bring that forward to the community to start review on that and certainly to the Planning Commission as well.

Is the question answered ?  NO.  When can the Commission expect to see a draft of the Gateway Zoning Code?  No answer is given.  Very vague.
What “go ahead” from the City Council is required?  When can that be expected.

Vice-Chair Mayer points out that it is “difficult” (or impossible) to look at the plan in detail when there is no written zoning code – only statements from David Loya.

It can be pointed out that the development of a good form-based code is a substantial task.  And that after it is developed and presented to the Planning Commission and the public, it needs to be reviewed.  Given the importance of the form-based code in creating the look and feel for so much development in Arcata, it would seem beneficial to have it reviewed by outside professional planners — other than by Planwest, the contracted developer of the form-based code.

Planning Commission Vice-Chair:  Judith Mayer
Time:  1:41:31

I think I may have as many comments as questions, probably more comments than questions. First, I’m excited by this plan’s creation of an opportunity to fulfill Arcata’s need for affordable and diverse housing in convenient locations.  And I’m also excited at the idea that we’re going to be doing it if we do it in a way that involves slightly different processes than what we’re using now.

I think that the car-free lifestyle is a lovely 21st century ideal which will work for targeted groups of residents but will depend very heavily on the city’s and the region’s ability to develop a usable robust public transportation system.

Beyond that we’re basically looking at students who can probably get to the University by foot or bicycle. And so I think it’s important to recognize the extent to which many of these projects would actually be targeted toward students or staff or others closely tied to the University community.

So I’m looking at the ways in which the plan’s policies indicate potential cooperation with the University as a partner.  And I’m also looking at the potential for the University to act on its own regardless of what the City of Arcata’s standards, desires, and form-based codes might present.  And so I think what I’m about to make here is a plea for any cooperation or any joint planning with the University to be done openly and above-board, transparently, and in a participatory manner.

I think the overall vision of the plan is sound, but the University’s plans that will affect our community must be responsive to our community and it must be through a process that we all can see.

The form-base —  and I realize that there are policies in the draft plan that indicate that cooperation will happen — I’m just begging that it should be done in an open way, a way that right now is not how the University has been operating vis-a-vis the City of Arcata and its planning desires.

I’m also looking at this idea of the form-based codes and the pick-and-choose model of development benefits and amenities. It’s a sound concept, it’s been tried, it’s been proven in many places.  But the devil tends to be in the details, and until we see that Zoning Code and the design standards it’s really difficult to say a whole lot about what makes sense.

Except that I’m concerned that in many cases the things that are considered to be community benefits….

Density — it is not really in itself a benefit, not a benefit at all — and the price that the community is being asked to pay to support these increased densities need to work to the entire community’s benefits, which​,​ you know​,​ that goes extensively into the traffic and circulation systems.

But today we’re being asked to address the land use, housing, and infrastructure sections.  I am very concerned that the potential for 7,000 more residents in 3,500 units will create a burden on the wastewater treatment plant before the City has really worked out how our wastewater system is going to benefit or at least not harm water quality in the area, as well as the extensive wetland system related to it.   I know that we’ve got a plan to upgrade the sewage treatment plant and I know that its costs have been mounting every time a new issue comes up.

The EIFD idea [Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts – see below] is another one which I would hope if the city is going to be going that direction, is done in a very open and transparent way.  Who actually pays the cost of borrowing money? The debt will be held by the City as a whole.  It is a concern.

And also the timing of all these things.  Arcata would need a much more robust adequate public facilities requirement that the facilities be in place prior to development approvals than we have at the moment.  And you know that’s something that would happen in the General Plan, not necessarily here. But I am concerned about the timing of all of this and the role of the actors, especially the University or major project developers who might be coming from Los Angeles and bringing their own cranes.

I’m not sure that we can talk about all of this without talking about those tiered levels of benefits and standards.  The thing that that really caught my attention here was the idea of an eight-floor luxury penthouse being considered a benefit to the community, while it blocks our views. I think it’s really important to carefully weigh what we consider benefits and what we consider amenities that must be offered in return.

And we don’t have that information yet.  That’s going to be in that Zoning Code and in the development standards, and  I hope that we’ll actually have a chance to debate those things publicly rather than to see them at the last minute when there’s pressure to finally adopt the plan.

So I’d love to see what the draft Zoning Code associated with the Gateway Plan will be, and I hope that the community can have some major input into what that’s going to look like.  Thank you.

Note:  EIFD = Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts
See:  https://scag.ca.gov/post/enhanced-infrastructure-financing-district-eifd

Southern California Association of Governments
“Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts (EIFDs) are financed through tax increment generated from the growth in property taxes collected from within a designated district boundary.
See:    California Community Economic Development Association  16 pages, 2016
https://cceda.com/wp-content/uploads/EIFD-Resource-Guide-Feb-20161.pdf

July 2021 — To date, EIFDs in the state have been few and far between, and most have been tied to individual development projects. With permission from relevant jurisdictions, those developers have created EIFDs that focus on improving roads or sewage systems near their projects.
https://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2021/07/02/small-business-landlord-464-eifd.html

Some EIFDs have taken advantage of the broader definition of infrastructure: The University of California, Davis established an EIFD for its Aggie Square project to incentivize and benefit the construction of affordable housing in neighborhoods at risk of gentrification.

 


Planning Commission Chair:  Julie Vaissade-Elcock
Time:  1:29:02

​I have a few comments, and I’ll do what Dan did and I’ll just throw everything out there and whatever you want to comment on is good.

So I think I made myself clear that I don’t really like this project. And I’m so sorry I know everybody worked so hard on it, and it doesn’t matter if I like it or not.

But Arcata has always been so cutting edge and non-conforming and innovative, and I just feel like this is sort of common.  It’s like the exact same plan you’ve seen so many other cities.

I wish we had something a little more tailor-made to our area.

But neither here nor there.

But I do have some questions that are more significant and one is regarding the developers.  You know, I’m curious:  What if a developer, you know, purchases these properties, I mean they’re target lots, we know that, they’re privately owned.  What if they submit a project that doesn’t fit the criteria, you kind of touched on that just a minute ago, because that that could happen.

And then I’m also worried about​,​ there aren’t a lot of developers here who could afford to do this. We know one, and are we at all concerned about one business owning all of these properties in Arcata?  That could​,​ we​’d​ have to change Arcata to, you know, Danco-ville or something.  Are we concerned about that at all? What would happen with that?

And then the other question I had was regarding the range of housing.  Different — So not everybody wants to own their own house but a lot of people would like to own their house.  And then so in the past — well, I’m just wondering how is the City going to encourage home ownership — especially affordable.  It seems like in the past that affordable housing was always, there were so many strings attached with affordable housing.

Right now with our affordable housing program it made it hard for the homeowners to build equity and take that equity with them, and, you know, move up and then have that place open again. There’s always so many strings attached.  And it seems like people move into these affordable housing and they can’t get out, and they can’t build the equity because there are so many strings attached.  In fact that’s part of the bigger picture ​in all of California is, you know, people — older people, like me — aren’t moving out of their large homes so that young people can move in and start the whole picture.

So, I don’t know, what kind of ideas are you guys thinking to help, you know, people getting, be first-time home buyers move into their home and then build that equity, and maybe prosper.

So those are my questions.

The response by Community Development Director David Loya to Julie Vaissade-Elcock’s questions went from 1:31:48  to 1:41:25, approximately 10 minutes.

Because response is so lengthy, it is included below.  Click here.

The response includes a a 4 minute section about “supply and demand” that is illustrative of a misguided notion of how supply and demand operate (and don’t operate) in a closed housing marketplace such as exists in Arcata.


 

Planning Commissioner Daniel Tangney

Time:  1:15:42

I have a list here and I’ll just go through and you give as brief an answer as you need to on some of them.

Residential home ownership — we all know what a big feature that is in developing kind of family finances over time.  In the last decade or more that I’ve been on the Commission nearly every project that’s gone through — particularly large projects — is rental-based, including our most recent four-story downtown project.  I sure hope that this ambitious development in Arcata would include a lot – a lot — of options for home-ownership.  I’m just wondering how we can influence that.  I get that market forces are very real.  However if there is something that we can codify on this, I would sure love to see that included.  And even perhaps reigniting the first-time home buyers stuff. So I’ll leave it at that for the first question and then I’ll continue.

 

Response from Community Development Director David Loya:

Okay, real quick on that one.  We definitely want to incentivize and prioritize mixed tenure.  That’s a policy that’s in the document right now.

The “policy” is there, but not the means to make the policy actually happen.  What is in the document is wishful thinking.  The word “condominium” and “owner-occupied” are each present 7 times.  “Encourage” does not mean that it will really take place.
Page 52:  “Encourage a mix of both owner-occupied and rental housing.”
Page 53:  “Encourage new home ownership opportunities for lower-income households including through condominium (e.g., deed restricted owner-occupied condominium units and for sale micro units).”

From a March 11, 2022 correspondence with David Loya:

Question:   At the open house meeting on Saturday, I asked you about whether there could be something in the code that would require a certain percentage of units as being offered for sale (presumably as condominiums) and that some portion of that be mandated as owner-occupied units (with regular City check-up) so that the units did not become rentals.  Is this feasible?  If not on a building-by-building basis, then on an annual basis, with new construction required to make up a shortage if needed.
I think a part of the public perception is that the new housing will be student rental, or just rental in general.  Ideally there will be some owner-occupied townhouses (perhaps 3 story) that developers will build. But how to make that attractive to developers — I don’t know.

Response from David Loya:  No. There is no legally binding way to do this without direct city investment. However, we can incentivize it as an amenity. And there are several developers who specialize in coop housing or land trusts. So I have every confidence we will see owner occupancy in this district.

continued, with David Loya:

And know what that would look like in new development is basically condos that folks come and buy the condo.  What it’ll look like in the broader market within Arcata, the hope is sort of what the theoretical model is.  That as we provide more and newer housing, high-quality housing for folks that really ought to be in apartments-type dwellings but are currently in single-family housing stock renting — because that’s all that’s available — we’ll start to see a shift over time.  So that’s kind of the market theory that we’re operating under.  Whether that actually happens will have to be proved out over time.

NOTE:  What David Loya seems to be saying is that older people in Arcata will move from their houses into apartments.  (“folks that really ought to be in apartments-type dwellings but are currently in single-family housing renting — because that’s all that’s available…”)

There are serious questions as to whether this opinion of his has a connection with reality, to put it bluntly.  For these (and other) reasons:

a) This is terribly presumptuous and elitist.

b) If these “folks that really ought to be in apartments” move from their houses, then what? Is the thinking that their houses will magically be put on the rental market at half or 3/4ths of the market price, and thus will suddenly supply affordable housing ?
When and if those older people move from a house to an apartment, that rental house will be priced even higher than what it currently is.  If the landlords put a formerly-rental houses up for sale, will the sales price of that house be under-market?  NO.

c) How many units of “folks that really ought to be in apartments” are we talking about?  Over the entire city, would it be ten?  twenty?  forty?  Certainly not in the hundreds. Not enough to make any kind of a dent in changing the nature of the housing stock.  Single-family homes will continue to be desired and priced at a premium because people want to live in a house with a yard and a garage – not in an apartment.

 

 

Planning Commissioner Daniel Tangney – continued

Time: 1:18:00

Playgrounds:  Daniel Tangney’s next question was about parks and play-spaces for children.  David Loya replied with how the plan provides for trails, open space (i.e. creek-side, tree-covered, brush areas), for a Plaza-like space, and wide sidewalks.  He does not answer the question of playgrounds.

Thank you.  And then a question that’s come up from public to me is about parks, where people are afraid of these tall buildings — lots of shade — and where is the outdoor spaces.  If some of them house many, many families, where’s the play area?  It’s not on a little balcony or something, it’s got to be associated with these projects.  So I’m imagining that in our code there’s ratios per family or per unit or something of where parks get developed, and that those will occur within the overall Gateway Zone, but I would like to hear briefly about that.

NOTE:  The Quimby Act requires a park area of 3 acres per every 1,000 persons living in the area, or the collection of in-lieu fees that a city can use to purchase or develop other parkland.  The 3 acres per 1,000 ratio illustrates the importance of park space as an important factor in human-scale livability.  See further on for more on the Quimby Act and whether it applies here.

NOTE:  The question is about “play area” and the question involves “many, many families.”  The implication of “play area” is for children’s play, sports, etc.  The response from David Loya says nothing about this kind of play area; instead he talks about open space natural areas (typically with plant growth), a plaza area, and sidewalk and other paved walking areas. 

The proposed Plaza-size town square that is proposed is exactly where the current Wing Inflatables building now is.  The likelihood of that building being town down and the land-owner donating the rights to use a block-square sized parcel is debatable.  And it still is not a playground.

The question is not answered.  There is no planned play area in the Draft Gateway Plan.

Response from David Loya:
I’ll bring up another image from the document here.  This time I’m actually going to share it.  [Page 65 of the Draft Plan is displayed]

So this is Figure 7, the Conceptual Open Space Plan, in the plan right now.  It’s got a range of different kinds of outdoor spaces planned for.

The first that I’ll point out is the linear park, along creeks, along rails. [Points to shaded treed area at the north of the image, along what would be N Street, between 11th & 16th.] We can improve the type and quality of outdoor amenities and spaces here, and you can see a couple of those where there are opportunities for that.  So this would be outdoor, kind of recreational space.

There’s also a large site on the Los Harbors project.  [Points to green wetland area on western edge of the plan area, north of the Samoa corner.] This, these figures are right now, they’re in draft, they may be reconfigured.  But basically there’s a large wetland out here. And so laying over the trail plan as well as the open space plan, there’s a lot of opportunity on some of these sites.  Even though the City doesn’t own a lot of this, the idea is that we would through this community process be identifying sites that have a high potential for this outdoor recreational space.

When you zoom in on the Barrel District there’s a kind of a square, like a plaza, an open plaza space similar to similarly sized and similar to the downtown Plaza that we’ve got planned for in here.  [Points to rectangle at L Street, at 5th & 6th, where Wing Inflatables is now.]

And then everything within this red box basically has, it’s in what we call the private, publicly-accessible private open space.  [The area enclosed by the red line on the figure, from 10th to Samoa, from K & L to N & O Streets.]  And so there would be parks associated with developments in this area that would be privately held but open to the public that they can go and use.

And then lastly the design concept in particular for the Gateway corridor but also these elements can be pulled into the Gateway Hub would include street setbacks that incorporate into the public right-of-way some private space.  And so you wouldn’t know as someone walking down the street that you were walking on private property, it would just look like a contiguous wide-open sidewalk.  And maybe there’d be benches here and there, you know little chess boards or whatever, that kind of thing and you would just naturally, as you were walking through that area, assume that it was part of the public open space because of the design elements. And those would be accessible as well so the city doesn’t own a whole lot of land in this area. But the other thing I’ll point out — and I’m not going to zip to the specific map but, there’s, I’ll share this one with you — [Page 70, Figure 9, Proposed Active Transportation Circulation map which shows walking trails]

— there’s a ton of existing and proposed trails that go all through here. These existing and proposed trails get you to lots of nearby spaces including you know the marsh, the Arcata sports complex.  All of these are within approximately five to ten minute walk from almost anywhere in the district.  And so the idea is that we’d be leveraging existing park resources and then creating new privately held park resources within the district.

NOTE: In the statement All of these are within approximately five to ten minute walk from almost anywhere in the district.” the word “these” is referring to the trails.  Or does “these” refer to the sports complex or the marsh?Is he saying that it’s a 5 or 10 minute walk to the marsh or sports complex?

As he has done multiple times, Community Development Director Loya puts trails and wetlands in the same context as public open space where people can congregate or children can play.  As open space, trails and wetlands are great, and will be a great improvement.  But without public open space — where people can meet, sit, have lunch, enjoy a break from their jobs, enjoy outdoor group activities, etc etc — without those necessary elements, then the development becomes unattractive to regular human living.

More importantly, the success of the plan absolutely is dependent upon these private open space elements.  The City expects landowners to give up land and, possibly, build and maintain and insure for liability these privately-owned parks for public use.
Draft Gateway Plan, page 62:  “Require residential development projects to dedicate land and/or pay fees for publicly-accessible open space within the Plan Area consistent with the Quimby Act, Land Use Code Section 9.86.030 (Park Land Dedication and Fees).”

Figure 7. Conceptual Open Space (above) shows the Arcata-Plaza-size new town square called “New Community Square” situated where?  Right on top of the existing industrial building where Wing Inflatables now runs their business.  The diagram says “Exact location tbd” — but if not there, then where?  Do we expect the landowner to tear down the existing building and give a square-block to the City?  To put it another way, what kind of “give-away” would the City have to offer for a land-owner/developer to give up a whole square block of land?

The Quimby Act is specified for use with new subdivisions. It does not apply to an area or specific infill/redevelopment plan.  On a city-wide basis, it could be considered that, with the Community Forest, the City of Arcata has hundreds of acres of parkland, far in excess of 3 acres per 1,000 persons.  

In the Gateway area, if the projected build-out of 3,500 housing units were to occur, this would amount to 7,000 or 8,000 new residents. By the Quimby ratio, this amounts to park space of 20 or more acres — certainly an impossibility in a downtown environment. For a new sub-division, the fees collected could go to pay for development of parks, either within or outside the sub-division.  But not in an infill plan.  More likely, the City will rely on development fees — which could vary from project to project.

 

Planning Commissioner Daniel Tangney – continued

Time:  1:22:36

If HSU buys in the District that will lose control over their footprint, like could be happening with the Craftsman’s Mall property. I just don’t know how that plays out. And why don’t I just throw out a couple more questions and then you can answer them in bulk.

What sawmill are people talking about — is it the one that’s recently arrived on Samoa Boulevard over the last four or five years.

Is the Sorrel Building that was referred to the new project that’s just south of the Plaza?
[Note:  The Sorrel Building is the new 4-story building on 7th Street between I & J.]

And then in the long run what will be the review process for each project in the zone.  Is this, are we heading towards some kind of, I heard here, a form-based code.  Does that mean that it’s ministerial as long as they fit the form-based code, or does each project go back through the scrutiny like we experienced with the Danco project [the Sorrel Building] south of the Plaza?

And that’s my questions, thank you.

 

Note:  Daniel Tangney asked Does that mean that it’s ministerial as long as they fit the form-based code, or does each project go back through the scrutiny like we experienced with the Danco project south of the Plaza?
The Danco project went to the Planning Commission only because the developer wanted a lot split.  If the lot split was not involved, that project could have or would have had ministerial approval.

Commissioner Tangney’s question is simple.  It could have been answered as:  “Yes, if a proposed project fits into the form-based code, then it will have ministerial approval.”

David Loya does say at one point “And when development comes forward that provides for us what we said we wanted in this plan, it will have a streamlined, principally-permitted pathway.” It is assumed that the listener – whether the Planning Commissioners or the public — knows that “a streamlined, principally-permitted pathway” is in fact ministerial approval.

David Loya talks for three and a half minutes.  Not one time does he use the word “ministerial.”  Does he actually answer Commissioner Tangney’s question?  Does he give the impression that he actually heard what Commissioner Tangney was asking? Does he actually talk about the subject at hand?  To a normal viewer:  No, he does not.

 

Response from Community Development Directory David Loya     
Time:  1:23:44 to 1:28:53

Absolutely. Actually, we had a request by Vice-Chair Mayer to bring back a more detailed explanation of how HSU and their purchasing power and our process, how those intersect.  So we’re planning on bringing back an agenda item on that, another business item to go into detail.

But to your question about what happens if HSU purchases property:  It’s absolutely true that if the University develops it then they don’t go through our land use process.  We’re a referral agency, and we tell them what we’d like to see happen, but they don’t have to go through any kind of permitting process with us.  And we do lose control of those sites in terms of land use.

The sawmill is the one that you refer to on Samoa, it’s R&L Lumber sawmill and we’ve been in discussions with them.  I’m not gonna go into detail about that, but they’re aware of the plan.

I think that most folks, if they looked at the City of Arcata and they were going to build it from scratch, probably wouldn’t design it the way that it’s ended up being.  We have a lot of legacy uses that evolved over time that were related to past industries, past practices, past land uses.  And so really the work that we’re doing right now is a revisioning, a reimagination of what this area should look like in the future, and that we would like to see it transition over time.

Sorrel Place project is the project off the Plaza that I believe folks have been referring to. It’s the one between J and I on Seventh.

[In the video at 1:25:24     ~3-1/2 minutes]

The question about what does the process look like in the future is a great one.  We’ve talked about this many times before, I didn’t go into detail on it today. Kind of hit it high level.

But the idea is that, yes, we’re going through a community design process right now that we are talking about. What do we want the look and feel of the city to be, what kind of amenities do we want.  We’re doing this on a land-use level, on a master planning level, to try and identify on a regional plan what we want to see happen with our community.  And then we’re turning to the development community who is not our, not our enemy, they’re our ally.  The development community is the group that’s actually going to build these things that we say we need.  We turn to the development community and we say this is what we’d like to see, can you provide it to us now.

Some people have said, well, it’s going to get too expensive, they’re never going to be able to afford it.  And it may be the case that some of these plans, some of these provisions, some of the amenities, they may be too expensive.  And part of this discussion is to engage with the development community, engage with the banking community.  You may recall the study session we had on alignment — that we want to make sure that all of the sectors, including the government sector, the part that we can bring to the table — align to provide the kind of development that this community needs, that it says that it wants within those design parameters.

So if — we’ll have a form-based code that will talk about what the developments look and feel like, we’ll have an amenities process that will be similar to conditions of approval. They’ll bring forward the types of off-site projects that we want to see in our community.  And when development comes forward that provides for us what we said we wanted in this plan, it will have a streamlined, principally-permitted pathway.

For projects that can’t meet those objectives — So, let’s say I’m a manufacturer, I build widgets and I employ 50 people.  And I’ve got an expansion plan to build more widgets, and I’m going to increase my employment base to 100 people.  Well, that’s not principally-permitted in the plan.  But just like it would be right now, there’s a planning process that the widget maker can go through and come to us go through a planning-permit process. They would say these are, this is what I’m bringing to the community.  It’s not going to be housing because I can’t think of a way to make widgets and not bother the people who live above me.  And then we would have a conversation, as a community, does this still fit within the Gateway Plan, does it still fit within our vision, are there certain conditions of approval that we need to put in place to ensure that the widget manufacturer isn’t impacting the adjacent land uses that we envision.  And so there’s still a pathway for projects that don’t provide the housing that we’re asking for.  It’s a standard process, and that’s in place right now for those projects.

And then just like every zoning district — I mean I think we get really hung up on this — what uses are not going to be allowed.  There are all these uses that aren’t going to be allowed.  You go to every zoning district, there are tens of uses that aren’t allowed.  And so it’s the same in this district is that we’ll have uses that we’ve set as a community, these aren’t compatible with this future district. And that’s  how they will be  incorporated as existing non-conforming into this new code.

 

Planning Commissioner Daniel Tangney – later 

Time:  1:57:15

David, were there balloons flown last Saturday, and if so was that — I heard that there were, and that they were supposed to indicate some building heights.  Was that a City thing?

And the other question I have is: Are there any communities in Northern California that have enacted similar development strategies that you’ve walked through or visited?  Or can direct us to.  Healdsburg, somewhere that probably has five, six, seven stories near their downtown corridors in a similar kind of population base.  I keep hearing “Let’s not make this into…” and then somebody will throw something out in L.A.

And I can’t relate to that.  That’s, you know, more than half the state lives in L.A.  But is there something in Northern California that you can touch on that is similar to this vision?

 

Response from Community Development Directory David Loya:     

1:58:12

Yeah, there are plenty of examples and maybe what I’ll plan for a future Planning Commission meeting is sort of a virtual tour of some of these downtowns, and some of the plans that we look to for inspiration, for how to do this planning process.

Note:  If there are plenty of examples (of other Northern California cities) then can you please tell us which ones?  David Loya could not name one off the top of his head?
Redwood City is later given as an example of having a form-based plan. However, it’s not an example, in the sense of what Commissioner Tangney requested.  They use a form-based code for their Downtown Precise Plan.  But the city is far more urban and far wealthier than Arcata. The Healdsburg Area Plan is a 7-acre parcel for one developer.

Planning Commission Chair Julie Vaissade-Elcock
I think the public would really like to see that too.

 

David Loya, continued:

The balloon — I heard rumors of a balloon.  It wasn’t the city, I wish it was because that’s a killer idea. I love the fact that whoever did that did it, and I hope it’s getting out there and being made public.  It kind of relates to, it’s just basically a story-pole process.  They must have done it on a windless day because otherwise it wouldn’t necessarily be eight stories.

But it does sort of translate into what the next steps are.

I think one of the community members had asked about how do we go through the next steps for design process?  And what we’d like to do after we get this framework. We’re hearing a lot, I mean I’ll just be perfectly blunt — we’re hearing a lot from many different sectors, the majority of the different sectors I would I would hazard a guess.  And we haven’t tallied up the comments yet but that people are concerned that eight stories is too tall and in particular we’re hearing from several architects that it’s just too tall — and so maybe eight stories is too tall.  And so we’ll be revising that downward.  And through this framework, if we revise that downward, the council says, yeah eight stories is too tall, we want you to go to six, let’s say — then our next steps will be to get into a little bit more resolution.

We have our consultant, has a GIS system that they can use to create basically blocks for massing, to get a rough sense for what that massing would look like on the ground.  And then it also will be able to use shadow projections so that you can see what the shading would look like and that sort of thing.  So that’ll be one avenue that we explore with the community.

This has been promised for five months (as of May, 2022).  It has not happened yet.
Without 3-D modeling of what a potential build-out of 6-Story and 8-story buildings might look like, the public — and the Planning Commission — are not in a position to assess the impact this plan may have on the streets and the neighborhoods. 

This cannot be stressed enough.  A map or a color-coded plan is insufficient, and, for the general public, it is misleading.

And then the second,  we haven’t completely resolved on, but what the idea that was floated was to take some Sketchup models that are relatively simple to put together and then put those inside those block models so that we can see, okay, within that framework here’s an actual development that we might see on the ground on this specific location.  And you’d be able to have kind of a virtual experience with it.

Again, promised and not seen.  Regardless of whether the Community Development Department is understaffed, or if the Gateway plan is underfunded — the public MUST have in front of them accurate depictions of what these buildings would look like.


 

Community Development Director David Loya
On Supply and Demand

Start at 1:31:48  to 1:37:58   A response to Planning Commission Chairperson Julie Vaissade-Elcock’s questions.

Before presenting the transcription, let’s look at some of the salient quotes in terms of what is often believed to be the “law of supply and demand.”

Quote:
How we tie that to housing affordability is by producing enough supply so that we can disrupt that market factor.”

Opinion:  This is a misguided view of the actual reality of “supply and demand.” Producing more supply may – may — result in prices being slightly lower.  Slightly lower —  which does not make the houses become affordable.  If a 3-bedroom house was $550,000 and now, because builders made too many of them, the price is lowered to $525,000, that does not make that house affordable, only a little less unaffordable.  Further, the demand (from within the community, plus from people coming from outside the community) is continuously shifting  — there is a continuously increasing demand.

As Andrea Tuttle (Ph.D. in environmental planning, see her superb letter click here) said at a meeting with David Loya, there is a more or less insatiable demand for housing here in Arcata.

It is more or less impossible to produce “enough supply” to disrupt the market sufficiently to create an affordable market.  “Enough supply” to lower prices would require developers to sell or rent at a lower price than their costs of construction – which is simply not going to happen (barring a national or global economic melt-down).

Further reflections on the quote:
“How we tie that to housing affordability is by producing enough supply so that we can disrupt that market factor.”

This is terribly misguided thinking. There is no “producing enough supply.”

Perhaps David Loya can give us some estimate of how many housing units would have to be produced to “disrupt the market factor.”  We are in a situation where if there are more housing units here, then more people will move here.

Further, there is the very real likelihood that as more housing units in the form of apartments or condos are built the standard single-family residence will be seen as more desirable, and thus will become even higher in price. 

The newly-built apartments in Arcata will have the effect of RAISING prices for any housing that is not an apartment.

Quote:
“So the way that we add equity into our community — and building equity in your community is a good thing, it’s a positive thing for those who choose to go that route — is by increasing the demand.”

This is a terrifically puzzling statement.  What is he saying, what is he implying, and what is the desired goal here?

He says:  “So the way that we add equity into our community . . . is by increasing the demand.”

For those who own, increasing demand will result in higher prices and, on paper, greater equity.  Simultaneously, rising prices makes it more difficult for people who want to own.  For those who rent, rising prices on homes generally translates into rising rents.

Isn’t this statement counter-productive to housing affordability?

Quote:
“So it’s the people who are teaching our kids, it’s the cops who are patrolling our streets, it’s the nurses that are taking care of us, the County workers, the City workers — it is our community that we need this plan for.

It’s true that it there’s a lot more housing that could be built if the total maximum housing was built out, based on what’s in the plan, but the reality is that we’re not planning for all of that housing to be built out now. It’s not be built out within even the 20-year planning period, it’s just a theoretical maximum.”

As Andrea Tuttle and many others have pointed out, it is a huge mistake to assume that the rate of growth that Arcata may experience in the next 20 years will be anything similar to the rate of growth over the past 10, 20, 30 years.  Factors such as climate change, working from home, the presence of Covid, crime, increased lack of livability in cities, etc etc will all tie in to make Arcata an even more desirable place to live.

 

Community Development Director David Loya

Time: 1:31:48 to 1:41:21

Yeah, those are great questions.  As to the project or the plan being tailor-made:  I mean this is the process we’re going through right now is to ensure that.  We’ve taken several years of public engagement, took what we heard, created a plan based on what we heard from this community, now reflecting that back to the community and getting a whole other round of engagement.  And we’re going to reflect that back to the decision-makers, and they will ultimately tailor-make this plan for our community based on that input.

Note:  To say “We’ve taken several years of public engagement, took what we heard, created a plan based on what we heard from this community” is very suspect.  There have been scoping sessions and discussions where “multi-story” buildings were discussed.  It does not seem that the notion of 8-story buildings was ever discussed, even during the Gateway area walks.  To quote from the excellent letter from Nick Lucchesi  (to read it, click here):

“My guess is that, should you have asked, not one person would have come up with the idea of 5-8 story residential buildings, limited car parking, traffic pattern changes, that are represented here. You have not asked us what we want. What this approach represents is a top down vision for the future of Arcata, with a belated attempt at getting buy-in from the public.”

 

So I know that you, know some folks, everybody’s coming at this from a different perspective. Some folks think three-story buildings are too big.

And there were a lot of questions asked by the public that we didn’t get back into and I’m happy to address those if you’re if you’re interested.

But part of the objectives that we have here is to meet not only our state housing goals but our goals for our community as well.

I think a lot of the times we frame the idea that we’re building in the community and that building is for someone who’s not part of the community right now. And so therefore it’s negatively impacting me.  Or not building in the community right now, it doesn’t impact me because I’ve already got what I need to live.

And so I’m not one of the members of that group, that cohort that’s looking for something so I just don’t want to see things change.  The reality is that this does have immediate impacts on us as a community.

One of my one of my co-workers — City of Arcata employee, worked here for years, it’s a good solid job, pay is decent, and makes a living wage — recently became homeless because of the housing situation in Arcata. The people who owned the rental she was in couldn’t find a place for their daughter to live because of the state of the housing market, and so they asked my colleague to leave. They asked her to leave within 30 days and she was homeless because she couldn’t find another place.  Just like the person who they moved in couldn’t find a place.

So it’s the people who are teaching our kids, it’s the cops who are patrolling our streets, it’s the nurses that are taking care of us, the County workers, the City workers — it is our community that we need this plan for.

It’s true that it there’s a lot more housing that could be built if the total maximum housing was built out, based on what’s in the plan, but the reality is that we’re not planning for all of that housing to be built out now. It’s not be built out within even the 20-year planning period, it’s just a theoretical maximum.

So how does that relate to housing affordability?  Well, it’s a supply and demand equation.

You know, you, the Chair, you’re in the real estate market, you understand that, you know, the prices for housing goes up when there are fewer houses on the market, those become a hotter commodity.  Forbes has recently identified our area as a white-hot market for housing — their words, white-hot market.  The houses — from what I’m hearing from our real estate professionals — the houses are selling now, you know, within days of being listed for over asking price, significantly over asking price, for cash offers.

And so what that means, what that translates into, is that the housing market currently as it stands, you’re not affected by it as long as you don’t step outside, need to get into that housing market personally, maybe.  But if you do, and I encourage everyone to take this exercise, you know, get a sense for what your house is worth.  Assume that you have five percent of that as a down payment, that you’re a new community member that’s looking for a home in Arcata.  And then figure out how much your monthly housing cost would be as a result of that.  I would guess that many of the people who are owners in Arcata right now, in particular if you bought five, ten years ago, you wouldn’t be able to afford your house right now.

And so we are the community members.  It’s us — it’s the type of people like us that we’re talking about here.  It’s not necessarily some future, amorphous “them” — it’s us.

How we tie that to housing affordability is by producing enough supply so that we can disrupt that market factor.

See notes above.  This is an impossible task, and represents seriously misguided thinking and a lack of understanding about the housing market and development costs.

Many of these people who are buying our houses are coming from out of the area. They’re cashing out of their homes in, you know, San Francisco, L.A., and moving here because they can tele-commute, or moving here because they’re close to retirement age and are deciding, you know, “I’m just cashing out.”  The average home price, the median home price in California right now is 680,000 dollars.  The median home price in Humboldt County right now is like 425- 450. And so you can imagine that someone leveraging a 680,000 home to move into our 450,000 home market has significant more leverage than, you know, the community that would be serving us in these middle-income, moderate-income jobs

So the way that we add equity into our community — and building equity in your community is a good thing, it’s a positive thing for those who choose to go that route — is by increasing the demand.

Please, reader:  Think about the meaning of that statement.  See the notes above.   A very puzzling statement.

And the contradiction of: So the way that we add equity into our community…is by increasing the demand.”
As opposed to this statement, just two paragraphs above:
“How we tie that to housing affordability is by producing enough supply so that we can disrupt that market factor.”

Now you mentioned the first-time homebuyer program. There are definitely some things we do to restructure that and we’re looking at that. That’s not really the purview of this this plan and I can talk to you about that offline if you’re interested.  But I do I think we’ve restructured our first-time homebuyer program so that it works right now in terms of those equity issues.

The problem is that there’s nothing on the market that meets our first-time homebuyer program ratios, because the housing market is quite hot and so the housing costs are too high for anyone who qualifies for our program to also qualify for a loan to be able to purchase one of these.   And so that’s another signal that there’s something really wrong with our housing market right now.

Time:  1:37:58

Going back up to some of the other questions that you asked.  What if the project doesn’t meet the criteria?  Yeah, absolutely, there’s a pathway.

The primary thing that this does is gives a principally permitted pathway for projects that give high-density housing.  If you come in and you’re not providing, you’re not going to provide high-density housing, you’re to provide jobs, let’s say, and there’s not going to be any housing associated with it.  You are going to provide some other service that’s allowed for in that zone but you don’t want to do the housing component.

Then you go through a permit process, use permit, to go before the commission and address the use that you wish to do, make your case for why it complies with the concept behind the Gateway Area Plan and provides for that vibrancy that we’re looking for — those jobs that we’re looking for.

And then it’s the exact same process that we have right now, for many of those uses.

Then you would ask about – oh, not everyone can develop this type of housing.

That’s an important piece I want to come to.  I’m going to share my screen again.

You know, stating that only certain developers would have the potential to build these out.  So this is in the Gateway Plan, it’s Table Seven, talks about the development types within the various districts and the base tier versus these community benefits tiers — where you would have to provide amenities to get into these higher tiers.

I think we’ve been really focused as a community on how big these buildings could be and what the maximum building height could be.

But I just want to draw everyone’s attention to this next line which is really really important:  Is that we have a minimum building height.

So right now I can tell you if a developer wanted to build an 8-story building tomorrow they just would not be able to do it.  There’s not a there’s not a crane large enough in Humboldt County to build an 8-story building, and so that’s a significant cost.  In fact I think it’s probably cost-prohibitive, and I can I can get some information on that to share with you.

But this is a maximum, this is a minimum in this district,  Someone can come in and build three stories right now. The maximum development height in the Gateway area is four stories.  Housing is not allowed in the Gateway right now, but you can build a building that’s 45 feet tall.  Similarly in the downtown the maximum building height is four stories but the minimum building height is two to three. So there’s a range in there.

When someone comes in — not everyone’s going to have the capacity to build an 8-story building, but every developer in this community has a capacity to build a four-story or a three-story, there’s no developer who doesn’t have the technology, the skills, the ability, the know-how to build a three-story building.

So it’s not going to become a monolithic one-size-fits all development zone, owned all by one person. There’s a lot of a lot of potential out there.

I think those were all of your questions

1:41:21

Comments:

It seems that Mr. Loya is speaking from opposite perspectives here.  The chart show a “base tier” of 2 stories.  If we have 2-story or 3-story buildings, then the density of housing units per acre will be insufficient to meet Arcata’s stated housing needs.  Similarly, 2-story or 3-story apartments would not likely have ground-level commercial spaces — so none of the street vitality that the Plan is aiming for.

Either we need the density (housing units per acre) that 4-story and higher buildings would provide — or … what are we trying to achieve with this Gateway Area Plan ?

As to that there are no cranes large enough to build an 8-story building:  a) North Coast Fabricators, locally, has cranes that are large enough.  b) If it becomes the case that developers want to build 8-story buildings, you can be assured that the cranes will arrive.

Below:  Table y: Development Standards.  Draft plan, Page 49
Draft-Plan-Page-49

 


Planning Commission – Partial Transcript of the February 8, 2022 meeting

Letter from Nick Lucchesi from January 15, 2022.

2022-04-12 PC - Nick Lucchesi letter