22 Chorro (October 20, 2016)

Changes in state law have made infill projects with affordable housing such as 22 Chorro not only exempt from CEQA, but have effectively undermined city council’s discretion to deny such projects. I disagree with these 2008 changes, and am very concerned about the effect they might have on San Luis Obispo, but could not simply ignore them.  I want to give a context to my vote in favor of the project because I have been accused of “not listening to the neighbors” and I want to clear up any misunderstanding.

Changes to the Government Code (the California Density Bonus Law and Housing Accountability Act both found in the California Government Code, §§ 65915 – 65918 and 65580 – 65589.8) have severely reduced the amount of discretion of city councils have to reject projects which provide affordable housing. They entitle a developer who provides affordable housing to extra density, and require a city to waive development standards to allow for the actual construction of those additional units. In addition, they allow a developer of affordable housing to request concessions or incentives. The public agency is required to grant the concession or incentive, unless it can make a finding based on objective facts that the concession or incentive would have a specific adverse impact on public health or safety or the physical environment, and there is no feasible method to satisfactorily mitigate or avoid the impact. Govt. Code § 65915(e).

Besides having the draconian result of requiring approval of such projects unless council makes these factual findings, violations of the general plan, policies or design guidelines are specifically called out by these laws as not qualifying as “specific adverse impacts.” So, Council could not have legally rejected 22 Chorro on the basis of traffic safety concerns because the LUCE EIR included traffic studies stating that Foothill, Broad and Chorro could handle increased traffic resulting from mixed use housing at those intersections. The developer’s request for a parking reduction concession also could not legally be turned down because the potential overflow parking problem does not present a safety impact and can be mitigated by the neighborhood creating a parking district.  The Planning Commission’s decision to deny the project, while responsive to neighbors’ legitimate concerns, ignored these changes in state law. Council could not have followed suit without denying the affordable housing developer’s statutory rights and contravening the law.