Like making sausage – housing gobbledegook

For the first time in its short history, the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC) has taken an official position.

Ramblingcolumnbox.finalBut explaining the position taken by the McKMAC on Dec. 19, and what it actually means, requires a certain amount of bureaucratic jibber jabber and lots of acronyms, so hang on to your hat. Or better yet slam a Red Bull, because you’re gonna need it,

Every few years the California Department of Housing and Community Development (CDHCD) comes up with a number of housing units that must be “provided” by all of Humboldt County. By “provided” the state doesn’t mean that the housing units actually need to be built. It means that land must be zoned for the housing units, so if developers want to build the houses, they can.

In many ways its just an exercise on paper, except for one thing – properties do get rezoned. This is when things get heated. Suddenly people realize that an apartment building may be built across the street from them, and all hell breaks loose.

But it all begins with the mundane, murky world of housing allocations.

For the years 2014 to 2019, the state has determined that Humboldt must provide a total of 2,060 units. Some land can be zoned for single-family homes, but other properties must be zoned for high-density development like apartments to meet the needs of people with low and very low incomes, like newspaper owners, many merchants on Central Avenue, the clerks and waitresses in most of the town’s stores, etc.

It’s then up to the local government agencies in Humboldt County to divvy up those housing units and determine which communities must provide the properly zoned land. This is done through what’s called the Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG). All of the cities in Humboldt County each get a single seat on the eight-member HCAOG board. The County of Humboldt also gets a single seat.

Being that McKinleyville is unincorporated, the closest thing it has to a seat on the board is the county’s single representative, which in 2012 was Supervisor Virginia Bass.

This is an important issue for McKinleyville because it’s going to have to absorb a substantial portion of those housing units. McKinleyville, after all, has lots of developable land along with a sewer and water system. It’s ripe for development whether people like it or not.

But there are concerns that if McKinleyville gets too many units, then it will have to rezone parcels and essentially toss out portions of the McKinleyville Community Plan. That plan has widespread support among people who are sometimes labeled as pro-development and anti-development (these labels are overly simplified to the degree that they are inaccurate. But the point is that the town’s general plan has strong support by different political factions, so people want to protect the plan. It’s a funny thing: For all the political bickering in town, there’s actually something almost resembling consensus when it comes to the town’s own General Plan.)

To protect that plan, it’s in the interest of the McKinleyville to have as few units allocated to the community as possible. How does one limit HCAOG from making McKinleyville take these units?

Naturally, by taking a position on what’s called the “Proposed Regional Housing Needs Allocation Methodology.” Yowza! You can download this awful document at the HCAOG website, but why would you want to? Take some smelling salts and let’s keep going.

This housing methodology uses a bunch a formulas to determine which communities get how many houses. The methodologies look at population and employment and a bunch of other factors. Then numbers are spit out. It’s kind of like making sausage, but not nearly as fun.

There are three different scenarios included in the proposal. The McKMAC voted unanimously last week to recommend the scenario that allocates the least amount of housing units to the county.

Under that scenario, the county would have to provide a total of 811 units. Many of those would be in McKinleyville. While that sounds like a lot of units, it’s less than another scenario, which had 906 units county wide.

The McKMAC discussed the possibility of asking for an even smaller allocation, but McKMAC member Greg Orsini wisely suggested that the committee make a realistic recommendation – something that might actually be considered, rather than a pie-in-the-sky recommendation.

The McKMAC could ask for less, but as Supervisor Ryan Sundberg has repeatedly reminded the committee, the county only has a single vote on the HCAOG board, That’s one vote on an eight-member board.

Keep in mind that if McKinleyville gets fewer housing units, then the cities get more housing units. The cities, like McKinleyville, would rather decide their own housing needs rather than have state bureaucrats dictate local land use policies. They’re motivated to push those units on other communities rather than their own.

So what happens if the McMAC gets its way and the HCAOG board agrees that the county should absorb 811 units? How much land will be rezoned?

It’s worth noting that the last time the state dropped its housing numbers on Humboldt County, it required a whopping 4,747 units. Some of these units eventually trickled down to Mack Town, where properties were rezoned for high density development.

However, after the economy crashed, very few housing units were built. Most of the rezoned land is still sitting there waiting to be developed.

According to HCAOG Executive Director Marcella Clem, the county could receive credits for that existing stock of undeveloped property.

So maybe very few properties will need to be rezoned in McKinleyville. This seems like it should be a simple yes or no question, but when planners are quizzed, they reveal that the whole process is kind of murky. It’s not a clear cut numbers game.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development, planners say, needs to be “convinced” to give you credit for the undeveloped properties. The county needs to plead its case and cross its fingers.

As for McKinleyville, the McKMAC’s vote last week marks the first time an official McKinleyville entity has been involved in the process of determining those housing numbers.

This is important because despite on the bureaucratic gobbledygook, these numbers might mean something for Mack Town.


1 Comment

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One response to “Like making sausage – housing gobbledegook

  1. I can read this

    Finally! Someone who can actually translate all this housing jibber jabber to plain English! Thank you.

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