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By Breeana Greenberg

While the Dana Point City Council voted unanimously last week to adopt the Housing Element Update as required by the state every eight years, the city is still awaiting final certification from California’s housing department.

The Housing Element—the blueprint within a General Plan that local governments use to address housing affordability and residential growth—must be adopted, as well as certified by the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) by Feb. 11. This update is Dana Point’s sixth cycle to the Housing Element and will cover 2021-2029.

Like all cities in Orange County, the City of Dana Point was required to submit a draft of its Housing Element by mid-October 2021. After making revisions from October through December, the city submitted another draft and received its second round of HCD review on Dec. 17. The Planning Commission then voted in mid-December to recommend the City Council adopt the Housing Element Update.

Colin Drukker, a principal at PlaceWorks, the planning, design and environmental firm that the city contracted as a consultant for the Housing and Safety Element Updates, explained at a recent Planning Commission meeting that certification by HCD happens once it accepts the update and generally can take three rounds of review.

The city expected minor revisions and hoped to get final certification in early 2022.

The city faced a Feb. 11 deadline to adopt the Housing Element and receive certification to remain in compliance with the state. Jurisdictions that don’t adopt and receive certification prior to the deadline must complete all necessary rezoning by Oct. 15, 2022.

Drukker explained to the City Council last week that while the city doesn’t need to complete new zoning, it should still aim to adopt the update prior to Feb. 11.

City staff had hoped to receive HCD certification prior to bringing the element up for adoption by City Council, however, with the Feb. 11 deadline looming, that no longer seemed feasible. Drukker explained that by adopting the Housing Element ahead of the deadline without HCD certification will at least show that the city is following the spirit of the law.

Out of 190 jurisdictions in the Southern California Association of Governments region, which covers the Counties of Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura, two have been fully HCD-certified, according to Drukker.

Prior to the council’s adoption of the update, local groups advocating for more affordable housing raised concerns with the city’s efforts to get low-income housing developed in Dana Point.

In each city’s update, it must show that they can accommodate the projected housing demands and demonstrate adequate residential capacity based on the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), but they’re not required to ever build any of those units.

The RHNA is an assessment of each county’s and city’s housing needs for the future. Of the more than 183,860 homes that Orange County was allocated, Dana Point was allotted 530 units—147 very-low-income units; 84 low-income; 101 moderate-income; and 198 above-moderate-income.

Nonprofits such as the Kennedy Commission, which advocates for production of affordable housing, and Welcoming Neighbors Home, a ministry that advocates for permanent supportive housing, submitted comments on the city’s Housing Element update. 

Cesar Covarrubias, executive director of the Kennedy Commission, wrote that the city has not facilitated the development of sufficient affordable housing.

In his letter to the council, he wrote that the city has underperformed in issuing building permits for very-low and low-income units while exceeding its above-moderate-income RHNA allocation in the building permits it has issued.

“It’s a sad fact that incomes in our area have not kept pace with housing cost,” Welcoming Neighbors Home Initiative Chair Rona Henry wrote her group’s submitted comment. “Now is the time to start seriously addressing the housing crisis that is likely to worsen with the recent economic strains imposed on families and individuals by the Coronavirus.”

Maura Mikulec, a member of Welcoming Neighbors Home, shared the experience of a homeless woman in Dana Point named Tammy who was trying to use the resources and assistance she received.

Milkulec explained that Tammy has a housing voucher that will help her pay a portion of her housing expense, however, she has not been able to find affordable housing that the voucher can be put towards in all of South County.

“Tammy is at risk of losing the housing voucher too if she doesn’t find a place and meanwhile she’s still on the street, daily, suffering and it really is suffering,” Mikulec said. “There’s many others like Tammy, who are lifelong residents, living on the streets who actually sought help, received help in the form of these vouchers but who are still on the street because we lack affordable housing.”

Mikulec called for a city lead program to promote the acceptance of housing vouchers by landlords.

Mayor Joe Muller asked Drukker at what point HCD would look at the Housing Element and determine the city is out of compliance if it’s not developing enough low-income homes.

“How do they determine the length of time that they’re going to look before they determine you’ve got barriers, and then how do they define that barrier,” Muller asked. “What if the barrier is that property costs here are just too high?”

Drukker answered that HCD does not necessarily determine that a city is out of compliance for a lack of activity developing toward its RHNA numbers. Instead, according to Drukker, a Senate Bill passed in 2017 streamlines development by removing red tape preventing the city from developing low-income housing.

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Frost noted in a comment that resident numbers in Dana Point have roughly stayed the same since the city’s founding.

“I know our Housing Element is long and there’s a whole bunch of good data in there for anyone who’s analytical. But this is interesting to me; our population in 1990, 31,896,” Frost said. “Our population in 2005, 15 years later, 34,500. Our population 2020, two years ago, 33,000.”

He added that a common sentiment he hears is that Dana Point has changed drastically over the years.

“Whether you’re on social media or talking to somebody at a coffee shop, ‘holy cow Dana Point is not the same, it has completely changed.’ ‘That’s way too crowded.’  We have, what, nearly 2,000 less, I guess, probably full-time residents since 2005?”

At the council meeting, Drukker gave City Council a presentation on the timeline and next steps. HCD now has 90 days to review the newly adopted Housing Element update. Once HCD approves the update, certification will take place within roughly 30 days, according to Drukker.

An updated Public Safety element will be brought back to the council at a later date because of recent changes proposed to the city’s evacuation maps in order to be in compliant with Senate Bill 9.

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at bgreenberg@picketfencemedia.com

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