More Low Income “Affordable Housing” On Its Way To Nipomo

The San Luis County Board of Supervisors will begin hearings on August 9, 2007 to consider proposed affordable housing ordinances. On July 16, 2007, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Department sent out letters to property owners on or near Hill Street. A copy of that letter follows:


To enlarge, click on the letter, then on the all sizes icon at the top.

Based on this letter, it looks like the planning department plans to recommend to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors that they approve an up zoning of the current residential multi-family zoning to allow up to 20 units on one acre parcels. It also would mandate that a vacant half acre parcel be required to have 10 units, if developed.

This could dramatically increase the potential number of lower income affordable housing in an area already over burdened by insufficient infrastructure. Some questions that come to my mind include:

1. Can the County quantify what it meas by a shortage of affordable housing?
2. Can the County define the geographic areas where there is a shortage of affordable housing?
3. How did the planning department identify the parcels located on Hill Street in Nipomo as appropriate for possible zoning changes?
4. What other communities in San Luis Obispo County are being considered for similar re-zoning?
5. The letter indicates there are 50 such parcels that may be suitable for this re-zoning. Can the County identify with particularity all the communities where they are located?
6. Is there an online link to the EIR referenced in the letter?
7. Is the county’s response to this “shortage” mandated by state requirements in anyway?

I’m sure there are many other questions that the County should answer. If you can think of any, feel free to send them along to Mr. Bench. His email is I would also mark the August 9, 2007 hearing dates for the Board of Supervisors.


2 thoughts on “More Low Income “Affordable Housing” On Its Way To Nipomo

  1. That letter Guy, is the required legal notice the County is sending to those most directly to be impacted by the proposed changes to the Affordable Housing ordinance in the Housing Element. And your questions are on target.

    1. Can the County quantify what it means by a shortage of affordable housing?
    Yes, as defined by the State and as designated by SLOCoG to the BoS and then they to Nipomo.

    2. Can the County define the geographic areas where there is a shortage of affordable housing?
    They would say this is a “no-brainer”, since no city or community within the county meets the State standard. (When we point out that most high-density housing belongs in the incorporated cities, which have jobs and social services, and that Nipomo has more affordable housing than any other unincorporated community in the county, they simply say that “No-one has enough.”

    3. How did the Planning Department identify the parcels located on Hill Street in Nipomo as appropriate for possible zoning changes?
    In the late 1990s there were a series of focus groups formed here by the Planning Department to define the community vision for Nipomo and the Mesa. (Some will remember that Jaime Lopes was the Planner in charge of that effort.) The results were remarkable for their near unanimous support for a “rural community” with low density both in and out of the Urban Reserve Line and Villages. Then, without consulting the public, a huge area of RMF zoning was added to the maps, parallel and mostly south of Tefft Street on both sides of 101. The community screamed, but their voices were ignored. And that’s how the RMF was sited. The notices merely tell you (between the lines) that they propose to change what is now mostly 10-15 units per acre to 20+ units per acre, with all the resultant consequences.

    4. What other communities in San Luis Obispo County are being considered for similar re-zoning?
    There are other communities with RMF zoning, but not much. The staff report says clearly that 80% of the increased density will be sited in Nipomo (40 of the 50 parcels).

    5. The letter indicates there are 50 such parcels that may be suitable for this re-zoning. Can the County identify with particularity all the communities where they are located?
    Yes, but see above.

    6. Is there an online link to the EIR referenced in the letter?
    The Draft Environmental Impact Report DEIR) is a very large document, over 450 pages in length. I didn’t find it on line, but the SCAC has copies (of which I hope to get a copy this evening).

    7. Is the County’s response to this “shortage” mandated by State requirements in any way?
    Absolutely, though the response is not precisely what many assume. The requirement is that land be zoned appropriately, not that the units be built. We have a fair amount of RMF zoning, so our effort must focus on being sure that resource constraints are not sidestepped, circulation impacts are addressed (not just bought off with In-lieu fees), play spaces are created within walking distance of RMF with children, and that design standards are highly articulated by Planning staff so that the units built are liveable.

    Best wishes,


  2. Mike,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I am also going to re-post here your comment that Jesse posted over at the Nipomo Yahoo Group, since it relates to this issue. You wrote in that comment:

    Date: Wed, 25 Jul 2007 20:39:58 -0700
    Subject: Long Post re Affordable Housing Ordinance Update

    For some reason I am no longer getting posts from the Community egroup, so I appreciate getting a copy of this discussion.

    This “mess” has been studied, with over a half dozen public hearings and work shops, for over 3 years now. John Brantingham attended a number of them, as did I, and County staff have been meticulous at adding names to their distribution list when anyone asked. The NCAC had a Housing subcommittee for some time, which helped track such things. Perhaps it needs to be formed again.

    The draft product (though it is not final until the BoS vote) contains all sorts of challenges and, as Vince and others say, it’s “heading for Nipomo”. Now is the time to make our contributions and comments; waiting for the final vote would not serve us well.

    I’d like to make some suggestions, if you don’t mind:

    1) Get a copy of the report, study it carefully, annotate the issues you see there, and then join in the SCAC effort to analyze and respond. (We are all busy; but if we cannot – or will not – make this a priority, there is no point in having an Advisory Council. It’s not the “nickel and dime” efforts about someone’s barn or a horse trail that defines us: it’s really how we rise to the major challenges that – like this one – come along every year or so.)

    2) Plan to attend meetings and speak carefully and calmly about this issue every time it comes up from now on: Planning Commission, BoS, Advisory Council task force (if Phil & the Council decide to form one), NCSD.

    3) Reach out to the other groups in Nipomo where we have contacts: SCAC, NCSD, Save the Mesa, Olde Towne Nipomo Association, D.A.N.A., Seniors Center, church and school support groups (esp. PTA), sports groups such as Nipomo Rec & AYSO, VFW. Tell them what’s planned and solicit their energies in shaping a better ordinance. (Forget that some of us have disagreed with others in the past. This is now, and it’s too important for us to remain divided about.)

    4) Reach out to homebuilders great and small. They make their livings providing us shelter, and we need the jobs they provide and the products they produce. Jerry Bunin of the HBA is sensible and bright (except when he disagrees with me ;-). Greg Nester, George Newman, and Dave Watson have worked hard to listen to us and to respect our vision for the community. Demonizing homebuilders will not make them go away, but it will insure that they stop listening to us.

    5) Do not criticize this draft ordinance by attacking “smart growth”. There may be a lot to dislike about smart growth, especially as it is being implemented; but the central problem with it in Nipomo is that smart growth is only being partially implemented. Density? Yes. But parks to compensate for taking away setbacks and back yards? No. Parks fees? Yes. But real parks for real kids (even when the land is offered in dedication)? No. We need to turn this around by embracing all the aspects of smart growth and insisting on seeing the whole package implemented. (Smart growth has been adopted formally by the State legislature as the design philosophy of the State, and the BoS unanimously adopted smart growth as the official development philosophy of this county. We need to approach this intelligently instead of baying at the moon.)

    6) Do not attack this ordinance by ranting about circulation. Our traffic impact fees are already high. With the downturn in the economy, the BoS is not likely to jack them up further. And (this is difficult, I know) remember that “bad circulation problems” have nothing to do with how things used to be in Nipomo: they have everything to do with comparisons with traffic statewide in California. No-one walks to meetings in Nipomo because it’s faster than driving. No-one leaves home a half-hour earlier to cross town in Nipomo during the worst of the traffic times. Temporary traffic impacts due to construction (e.g., Mary Street nowadays) are no basis for changing long-term policies. (People who wish to do something serious about circulation should work with the SCAC committee Marianne Buckmeyer made so effective, not also effectively chaired by Dan Woodson. Noise about traffic means aggravation; serious work about traffic means solutions.)

    7) Give up any notions of succeeding simply by being hostile. A new ordinance WILL be drafted and passed. Instead, decide what we really want and work hard to see that incorporated into the new ordinance. (Bad-mouthing County staff or “developers” is counter-productive. The supervisors MUST trust their staff most of the time – or do all the leg work themselves. That’s simply reality. And most of us did not build the homes we now live in. Build bridges to the better developers and use their example as the standard we expect from the rest.)

    8) Do not threaten. Do not rant about elections yet to come or litigation yet to be filed. Staff are secure from being sued, and the supervisors – like you and me – have no respect for threats. (If, after making every effort in good faith to find a workable solution we were to fail, then – and only then – should there be a quiet and respectful preparation to litigate. BUT even if it came to that, our efforts should be to settle out of court in a civilized manner. After all, if it comes to that, we will have failed too, not just “the County”.)

    And last…

    9) Support the NCSD’s efforts to make sure the impacts on our water resources that could result from this ordinance are dealt with responsibly. (The NCSD has no power or mandate to weigh in on design issues, except as they affect water resources and impact our waste water treatment facility. It’s not that we don’t care about such things, but we have too much that we MUST do to spend staff time and money on land use planning.)

    N.B. I can’t stress enough how much contempt and disrespect a community gets from policy makers when people supposedly representing that community stand up and tee off on Board members, ascribing bad motives to them and their staff.

    The good news is that this draft is not at all a finished document, and nearly every supervisor has things to dislike about it. We may be starting late, but we can make a positive difference. The bad news is that this is aimed directly at us, but for that reason they will listen to us more than folks from other places in the county.


    PS. Vince is not quite correct in saying that “everything can be mitigated.” In fact, a Class I impact is Class I BECAUSE it cannot be mitigated. This means that a Class I can be adopted simply by making findings of overriding considerations. No mitigation required by CEQA. No in-lieu fees required.

    The NCSD found the CEQA review of the GPA on Summit Station characterized that way, and we fought back. (The “overriding considerations” were sad: 1) It would provide some construction jobs in the short run, and 2) the value of the land built on would increase. They even forgot to say that it would produce much-needed homes.) We argued that 1) the mandatory No Project alternative did not produce the identified Class I impacts; 2) County policy had created the problem and could fix it; and 3) we could identify mitigations that would in fact work, i.e., supplemental water. We argued as well as we knew how and were rebuffed. We challenged the results in later hearings and were rebuffed again. We filed suit, hired good attorneys (notably Jon Seitz, District Counsel – who still will not split fees with me ;-), had them negotiate with County Counsel over some time, and finally prevailed without going to trial.

    I believe we might do better this time, especially if all segments of Nipomo work together. We should work for an ordinance that is fair and effective – for homebuilders, for our limited resources, and for the many families that cannot afford to buy (or even rent!) a home near work.


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