Blog Santa Cruz YIMBY comments on the Santa Cruz County June 2023 Draft Housing Element

Letter to Santa Cruz County Planning Staff

July 11, 2023

Santa Cruz YIMBY advocates for abundant housing at all levels of affordability to meet the needs of a growing population in Santa Cruz County. We support sustainable growth, including along transportation corridors and activity centers and a commitment to lower Vehicle Miles Traveled by housing people near services and jobs.

We submit the following comments on the Santa Cruz County 6th cycle draft Housing Element of June 11, 2023 (1).

(1) County of Santa Cruz 2023 Housing Element Draft - June 11, 2023

Pro-Housing Designation and Coastal Zone

We commend the County on explicitly committing to a Pro-Housing Designation which makes the county more competitive for affordable housing, transportation and infrastructure dollars from the state.

We also support the focus on the Coastal Zone/Local Coastal Plans through Program H-3G (Page 4-37) to “commission an independent study to evaluate all aspects of the County’s Local Coastal Program (LCP)...” to determine what serves as a barrier to fair housing, is generally a constraint to multi-family housing or applies more restrictive development standards to multi-family housing, among other things.

The County should publish the different requirements and time periods that affect development in the Coastal Zone. Zoning changes within the Coastal Zone require approval of a revised Local Coastal Plan (LCP) by the Coastal Commission, which is not necessarily the case for changes outside of the zone. A related program in the Housing Element should include the implementation of zoning outside the coastal zone without affecting the LCP. While the county currently requires all zoning updates to be implemented with a revised LCP, it need not do so; it should adopt a zoning framework similar to the city of Santa Cruz, so that zoning ordinances that affect land use outside of the coastal zone can take effect immediately.

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH)

The draft Housing Element includes a very complete Fair Housing Report including segregation information.

AFFH compliance includes the distribution of affordable housing throughout the county. We note that the County has planned for 85% of affordable housing in high/highest access to opportunity as shown on TCAC/HCD Maps (2) but note only 5% of affordable housing is planned for racially-concentrated areas of affluence (RCAA) (3)

At least two census tracts are both high/highest resource areas and RCAA, but have only above-moderate units planned (4). Census tracts are primarily made up of low density, single family residential homes and census tract 1222.02 in Aptos includes a grocery store and elementary school. Both of their assessments include; “While none are proposed, the introduction of affordable units for low income households in this Census Tract would help to further integrate unincorporated Santa Cruz County.” Affordable units should be incentivized for these areas, including through missing middle (5) housing.

In New State Laws Affecting Housing,6 the County describes steps taken to incentivize Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which can provide affordable housing in high resource/low density areas with single family residential homes. We support Program H-1J to utilize SB 10 to increase densities for 44 parcels in the county and see potential for that to expand (note that the referenced “Table B” does not exist in the Housing Element). We support Program H-1H to develop an SB9 implementation ordinance and an update to the LCP to include it in the coastal zone.

The county can promote naturally occurring missing middle affordable housing more equitably throughout the entire county. We urge the county to adopt more specific and rigorous programs for missing middle housing which would include:

  • Form-based zoning: If it is legal to build a 5000 square foot house for one family it should also be legal to build two 2000 square foot homes or three 1300 square foot homes in the same building envelope throughout the county. This can be achieved without an EIR thanks to Senate Bill 107.
  • Reduce parking minimums to no more than half a space per unit, uncovered.
  • Reduce front and rear setbacks and minimum lot size; increase heights, maximum lot coverage requirements.

(2) 2023 CTCAC HCD Opportunity Map, also in Appendix HE-A: Fair Housing Report Draft June 2023, Page HE-A-61
AFFH Data Viewer and Mapping Resources Version 2.0 Also in Appendix HE-A: Fair Housing Report Draft June 2023, Page HE-A-59
(3) Appendix HE-A: Fair Housing Report Draft June 2023 Page HE-A-144
(4) Figure HE-B-1 on Appendix HE-A: Fair Housing Report Draft June 2023 Page HE-A-123
(5) Missing Middle Housing
(6) Santa Cruz County 2023 draft Housing Element (June 2023), page 4-11
(7) SB 10 - California YIMBY

Probability of Meeting Low Income Targets

We commend the County on the three Homekey grant applications / projects, including one that makes use of AB 2162. Permanent supportive housing is a key solution towards solving homelessness. Consistent with AFFH, the County should create a policy to ensure equitable distribution (and development potential) of such housing across all districts.

We support seeking all available funding from the state for special needs populations as described in Program H-4B and Program H-4G and also making use of state laws such as AB 2162.

Looking at Table 4.4-3: Housing Capacity for the Planning Period (8), the County has adopted a minimal buffer of 10%. HCD recommends a buffer between 15-30%.9 Most of the income categories are in or exceed this range. The exception is Very-Low which exceeds the 10% buffer by only 1 unit. We recommend identifying sites for the very-low income category so that there is a buffer in the 15-30% range for that income category.

The County’s 5th cycle progress towards affordable housing at the Very-Low income level lags significantly at 24-35% less than other categories.10 Farmworker housing accounts for the majority of the proposed Very-Low income RHNA units. While there are programs focused on development of farmworker housing, If the County misses this affordable target, it faces the daunting task of identifying other sites to make up the difference under No Net Loss law.

(8) Santa Cruz County 2023 draft Housing Element (June 2023), page 4-70
(9) Housing Element Sites Inventory Guidebook, page 22
(10) Santa Cruz County 2023 draft Housing Element (June 2023),, page 4-11 and Appendix HE-B – Review of Previous Housing Element Programs page HE-B-28

Housing Production

In the 5th cycle (2015-2023), the County permitted 1043 units towards meeting total RHNA of 1314 units (11). The RHNA for the 6th cycle is approximately 3.5 times higher than the 5th cycle, and Table 4.4-3: Housing Capacity for the Planning Period (12) shows how through existing capacity, non-site specific approaches and a rezoning program, the County has identified capacity that meets RHNA with a buffer. We support the site consolidation bonus program (13) which incentivizes infill mixed-use multifamily housing projects and is additive to other density bonuses.

However, Table 4.2-1 Quantified Objectives (14) is described as the “County’s best effort to implement each type of housing effort.” This table indicates that the county’s best effort falls short in every income category including Above Moderate (aka market rate). If the County is projecting that the best effort will result in 50% of the RHNA, then more dramatic action is needed to meaningfully meet the RHNA floor.

Unanalyzed Constraints

The constraints section listed in Appendix HE-D does not adequately analyze constraining factors to development. Declaring that there is no constraint to production is not a sufficient analysis; the constraints identified in this section should be analyzed via a market study for development feasibility, not simply a comparison to other nearby jurisdictions who may also have unreasonable constraints to development. For example, the statement “Parking requirements are low enough to not pose a constraint;” is not based on any market analysis.

Unaddressed Zoning Constraints

The County asserts that the “... Zoning Code does not pose an unnecessary constraint to the development of affordable housing” (15). Based on the HCD dashboard (16) with Annual Progress Report (APR) information through 2022, the county appears to have built only 50% of the permitted units through the 5th cycle. There are other constraints that we believe the County should address to ensure that housing can be built.

We expect projects to make use of State Density Bonus law for feasibility of development of affordable housing. Currently, the county zoning code includes constraints and limitations that could limit affordable multifamily or mixed-use housing from achieving assumed base densities. These include but are not limited to building height, setbacks, FAR, and parking requirements. If the county is truly “Pro-Housing” the County should update their zoning to allow for multifamily projects as the default. Additional height could provide a gentle boost to densities that will make a substantial contribution to the sustainability, liveability, and equity of communities, especially along transit corridors and on opportunity sites. The County must do more than “consider” the zoning modifications in Program H-1F and more often than once by the end of 2026.

Inclusionary Requirements

The County also highlights Measure J program (17) that sets an inclusionary requirement for ownership housing projects and impact fees for rental projects. The County states that the program “has not constrained development in the community”, yet has averaged less than 4 units (CORRECTION: it is 13 units on average) per year since inception in 1978. The County should commission studies to determine at what percentage an inclusionary rate (or impact fees) becomes an impediment to housing development. The disincentives of inclusionary rates should be offset by additional incentives above state and local density bonuses.

Processing and Permit Procedures

The County’s development process is summarized in the Constraints section of the Housing Element. We support Program H-1K to provide “priority” processing for projects greater than seven units with an affordability component. As these projects remain subject to discretionary approval, the County should include a program to adopt ministerial approval for a subset of projects, e.g. those on the site inventory or 100% affordable.

The County should commit to showing its compliance with the Permit Streamlining Act by providing on its website up to date statistics on processing times for various project types with useful milestones, e.g. preliminary design submittal, design approval, construction drawing submittal, Building Permit, Certificate of Occupancy. The County should continue to move all impact fees to a per square foot basis rather than per unit to incentivize more and less expensive units.

(11) Santa Cruz County 2023 draft Housing Element (June 2023), Page 4-11
(12) Santa Cruz County 2023 draft Housing Element (June 2023), Page 4-70
(13) Santa Cruz County 2023 draft Housing Element (June 2023), Policy H-1.9, page 4-26 and Program H-1D, page 4-27 14
Santa Cruz County 2023 draft Housing Element (June 2023), Page 4-24
(15) Santa Cruz County 2023 draft Housing Element (June 2023), page 4-64 and Appendix HE-D – Housing Constraints page HE-D-26
(16) Housing Element Implementation and APR Dashboard, Housing Development Pipeline
(17) Appendix HE-D – Housing Constraints page HE-D-1 thru HE-D-4

Site Inventory

The Site Inventory (Appendix HE-E) lists a number of churches, schools and granges. These sites should only be listed as opportunity sites if their current owners have expressed interest in developing housing during the planning period.

Given the County has land use control for its own land, the County should have a program for the development of affordable housing for county-owned parcels on the site inventory.

References to “Table A” and “Table B” in the Goals, Policies and Programs need to be updated to the numbering of the Appendix HE-E: Housing Site Inventory.

Mid-cycle Reviews

The County recently modified zoning and development standards in the update to the Sustainability Update. With the adoption of these changes in the Sustainability Update being so new, we recommend mid-cycle checkpoints to verify that these changes are facilitating development of new housing. The County should:

  • Identify more specific commitments/incentives if progress isn’t happening
  • Market analysis and modification of zoning/development standards if not meeting goals
  • Ministerial approval process for all site inventory projects
  • Tracking commercial occupancy, and if vacancy is too high, relax commercial requirements in favor of more residential, including live/work units
  • Monitor the progress of pending projects. This could include automatic entitlement extensions until midway through the 6th cycle and proactively reaching out to all pending project developers to confirm that there is still development interest.
  • Reduced parking requirements (see “Parking” below)


In the constraints section of the Housing Element, the County claims “Parking requirements are low enough to not pose a constraint” (18), however parking requirements significantly contribute to the cost of housing (19).

The County should further decrease parking requirements to lower the cost of housing and further encourage alternative and sustainable modes of transportation, including walking, biking and mass transit. Looking at the County’s parking requirements (20), two (2) spots per unit for multifamily and single family housing is unreasonable. We see the following opportunities, certainly outside the coastal zone:

  • Reduce parking minimums to no more than half a space per unit, uncovered.
  • Reduce parking requirements for multifamily dwellings, especially for
    development along transit corridors or that include smaller units such as SROs.
  • Commit to the development of an AB 2097 implementation ordinance which reduces parking near transit.
  • Align reduced parking for senior and special needs developments with AB 2162 which has by-right approvals and eliminates parking requirements.

(18) Santa Cruz County 2023 draft Housing Element (June 2023) page 4-65 and Appendix HE-D – Housing Constraints page HE-D-26
(19) Low-income renters pay a high, and hidden, price for city parking requirements | UCLA
(20) Appendix HE-D– Housing Constraints Table HE-D-7 on page HE-D-25

Tenant Protections

As a county with a growing percentage of renters, it is important to have strong tenant protections. We support Program H-3D with a universal rental application and push for limits on application fees.

We also support Policy H-2.1 and Program H-2B to preserve and rehabilitate Mobile Home Parks (MHP) as they are a source of non-subsidized affordable housing and as noted in the Fair Housing Report, “increasingly attractive to lower income households and this highly competitive and expensive housing market.” (21)

The housing element notes that 53% of renters are cost burdened, and 30% are severely cost burdened. (22) There are a number of programs we would like to see implemented or expanded in the county including:

  • Creation of a rental registry. This was recently passed by both Salinas (23) and Monterey (24)
  • Local preference for people employed in the county
  • COPA (25) and TOPA (26) programs

(21) Appendix HE-A – Fair Housing Report, Page HE-A-3
(22) Santa Cruz County 2023 draft Housing Element (June 2023) Page 4-58 and Appendix HE-A – Fair Housing Report, Page HE-A-101
(23) Salinas passes rental registry
(24) Monterey City Council moves ahead with rental registry
(25) Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA) | San Francisco
(26) EBCLC's Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) - East Bay Community Law Center