Blog To HCD: Santa Cruz YIMBY Comments on City of Santa Cruz Draft Housing Element (May 2023)

July 8, 2023

Santa Cruz YIMBY has the following comments on the City of Santa Cruz’s 6th cycle Housing Element draft submitted to Housing and Community Development for review on May 10, 2023 (1.) We submitted feedback to the City during the public review and comment period, and would like to highlight the issues that remain in the amended Housing Element.

In response to the ever-increasing cost of living, Santa Cruz YIMBY advocates for abundant housing at all levels of affordability to meet the needs of a growing population in Santa Cruz County. The Housing Element is an opportunity for the City of Santa Cruz to address the housing crisis on its own terms. 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.


Policy 1 - Housing Production

We are thrilled that the City has met their 5th cycle goals, however, with no rezoning taking place to meet the 6th cycle production goals, policies to increase housing production will be of huge importance.

It is stated under Policy 1.2, and more fully in Appendix D: Fair Housing Assessment, that most new housing will be concentrated in the central core of the City, meaning along major commercial corridors and on major opportunity sites. With this area receiving over 45% of the new housing, including over 40% of the Very Low and Low-Income sites, we believe that the City should be looking towards additional opportunities to meet AFFH goals, including in majority single-family neighborhoods of other districts.

We believe the City can and should go further to enable more housing types in its most resource rich neighborhoods. Objective 1.3e intends to utilize SB 10 to increase residential density in transit rich areas, which in Santa Cruz are not high resource. The SB 10 scope should be expanded to include urban infill sites in high resource districts outside of transit rich areas to allow for more affordable housing throughout the City.

Pipeline Projects

A large source of new units for the City during the 6th cycle will be from pipeline projects. For jurisdictions relying heavily on pipeline projects, HCD recommends(2) that “...the element should include programs with actions that commit to facilitating development and monitoring approvals of the projects, including the number of units and affordability (e.g., coordination with applicants to approve remaining entitlements, supporting funding applications, expediting approvals and monitoring of project progress, including rezoning or identification of additional sites, if necessary).” We suggest that the city commit to implementing such a recommendation to facilitate development, such as by proactively monitoring and facilitating post-entitlement developments with technical and/or financial assistance.

(2) HCD response to Brisbane Draft Housing Element, January 2023

Mid-cycle Review

Under Policy 1.1, the City commits to providing new housing through adoption of the Housing Element (1.1a) and review and annual publication of sites inventory (1.1b). The City can make a stronger commitment to appropriate progress towards its 6th cycle goals. We would like to see an objective with a more active mid-cycle review and adjustment. Tying this review to commitments to increase housing production such as rezoning, ADU incentives, or removing development constraints would allow the City to minimize impacts of falling behind in the 6th cycle. Making these commitments specific now would reduce the staff time required to implement mid-cycle.

As part of the mid-cycle review, the City should create objectives that monitor the progress of pipeline projects. This should include automatic entitlement extensions until midway through the 6th cycle, a commitment to advocate for city-entitled projects to be approved by the Coastal Commission, and proactively reaching out to all pipeline projects to confirm that there is still development interest.

Objective Standards

The City should expand Objective 1.2b to include a policy that any project found consistent with Objective Standards is placed on the consent agenda for all hearing bodies. Such projects should only be appealable to council if denied by the planning commission, or if the appeal is related to consistency with objective standards. This would greatly increase the incentive for developers to design projects compliant with the standards.


We are pleased to see that elimination of parking minimums is intended as a policy objective, however it is not stated as a commitment in objective 1.3c. In the City’s work to achieve this, we believe the elimination of such requirements within a mile walking area of five or more amenities (pharmacies, grocery stores, transit stops, etc), and in very low vehicle travel areas, would be a good intermediate policy stepping stone.

FAR and Density

A significant constraint to development of 2+ bedroom units is the units/ acre density requirement, something that does not apply to smaller units such as SROs. In order to increase the number of family sized (2+ bed) units built, this constraint should be removed or significantly modified. This should also be addressed by increasing the FAR for projects consisting of 50% or more 2+ bedroom units. This increase should allow the same net number of units as if they were proposed as SROs or a similar unlimited density unit.

Policy 2 - Affordable Housing

The ordinance options allowing 100 percent affordable residential development to be considered a “by-right” use would greatly speed along much needed affordable housing. As such, we urge expedited approval of Objective 2.2g to 2024 or earlier rather than a quarter of the way through the 6th cycle. A commitment to developing or declaring city parking lots downtown surplus by a certain date with the goal of providing affordable housing would also be a valuable policy.

As part of objective 2.4c, we support establishing a Community Opportunity to Purchase (3) program to give qualified non-profit organizations the right of first offer or refusal to purchase certain properties offered for sale in the City. We also support establishing a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase (4) program to help prevent displacement, empower tenants, and preserve affordable housing when the owner decides to sell.

(3) Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA) | San Francisco
(4) EBCLC's Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) - East Bay Community Law Center

Policy 3 - Special Needs and Homelessness

Permanent supportive housing is a key solution towards solving homelessness. Policy 3.4 should explicitly indicate equitable distribution (and development potential) of such housing across all districts.

Persons with disabilities benefit from the development of extremely low- and very low-income housing. Objective 3.1c falls short of any commitment to develop housing, only to “publicize housing accessible to persons with disabilities”. The City should increase incentives for extremely low housing in objectives under Policy 2 - Affordable Housing, such as additional density bonus (Policy 2.3) or modification of the inclusionary ordinance (objective 2.1a) or by-right approval (objective 2.2g) to favor more extremely-low homes.

The University

The two objectives related to the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), 3.5a and 3.5b, are vaguely worded to “Continue to collaborate...” and “Support state legislation...” which are repeats from the 5th cycle. Note that as recently as 2022, the City formally expressed opposition to proposed legislation intended to facilitate more housing at UCSC. (5)

The City has been and continues to be a significant barrier to development at UCSC, as evidenced by past and ongoing litigation6. This is not acknowledged in the constraints portion of the City’s housing element. The city should make a good faith effort to analyze the barriers it presents to housing construction and planning with regards to UCSC and propose programs to mitigate these impacts. The city should commit to providing municipal services to new housing at UCSC and a policy to not sue over housing production on campus or to obstruct UCSC housing projects through other means such as withholding water access via the Local Agency Formation Commission process.

(5) Minutes from City Council meeting, 4-26-2022
(6) City of Santa Cruz, UCSC in talks to possibly end lawsuits over enrollment and housing plans

Policy 5 - Neighborhood Vitality

Policy 5 opens with the following context: “Quality of life is shaped, in part, by neighborhood conditions in Santa Cruz. As an older, established community, Santa Cruz requires a concerted effort to encourage the maintenance, rehabilitation, and improvement of housing and to promote sustainable, livable neighborhoods in the face of increasing density.” We wholly reject the framing that density and sustainable, livable neighborhoods are incompatible. The city should update this language.

Policy 6 - Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing

As discussed in our Housing Production section, a majority of new housing is being planned along major corridors. This leaves out many exclusive and high opportunity neighborhoods from producing their fair share of housing.

Creation of missing middle housing isn’t mentioned within the policy plan - the City should adapt zoning regulations that would incentivize this form of housing. Examples include reducing minimum lot size, lot width, and parking requirements (kudos to the latter already being included!)

We believe the City can and should go further to enable more housing types in its most resource rich neighborhoods. Objective 6.2d should use SB 10 to increase density in R1 districts, not just to allow construction of Flexible Density Units (FDUs). FDUs are a housing type, not a zoning district. The time frame for zoning amendments to expand housing opportunities in single family zones should be sooner than 2029 as proposed in Objective 6.2c. Similarly, the City’s deadline for updating the local SB9 ordinance consistent with State Law should be earlier than 2027.

Policy 6.4 recognizes that displacement may follow new development. Improvements of community assets, as proposed in Objective 6.4a may also result in displacement. This objective should include applicable anti-displacement strategies.

Sites Inventory - Small Sites Program

The site inventory identifies a significant number of small parcels for development, many of which are projected to accommodate low income units. Per HCD’s Site Inventory Guidebook (7) “A parcel smaller than one half acre is considered inadequate to accommodate housing affordable to lower income households, unless the housing element demonstrates development of housing affordable to lower income households on these sites is realistic or feasible.” The City claims that many of these parcels have development opportunities due to common ownership with adjacent parcels; the Housing Element includes no objectives in the Policy Plan with specific incentives to facilitate consolidation. We recommend an incentive program such as a FAR density bonus for projects which involve small lot consolidation.

(7) Housing Element Sites Inventory Guidebook

Upzoning Near Potential Light Rail Stations

The RTC has multiple scenarios for a passenger light rail route. In most scenarios stations would be located on the Westside, Bay/California, Downtown, and Seabright (8). We encourage a program to look at additional density along the Coastal Rail Trail, with a focus on these station locations.

(8) SCCRTC Rail Study - Service Scenario Map

Tenant Protections

As a majority-renter city, it is important that we have strong tenant protections. There are a number of programs we would like to see implemented or expanded in the City including:

  • Elimination of or cap on rental application fees
  • Creation of a rental registry. This was recently passed by both Salinas (9) and Monterey (10)
  • Local preference for people employed in the county
  • COPA and TOPA programs (see Policy 2 - Affordable Housing)
  • Conduct a disparate impact analysis of non-high(est) resource areas (11) and apply a live-work preference if if it matches county demographics

(9) Salinas passes rental registry, first in Monterey County
(10) Monterey City Council moves ahead with rental registry
(11) 2023 CTCAC HCD Opportunity Map

Need for Active Language, Dates and Measurable Metrics

Objectives/Time frames lack active language, dates, and measurable metrics to determine the success of the objective. Time frames are often a recitation of the process, not a commitment to an outcome. Some examples:

Policy 1 - Housing Production

  • 1.2d - Time frame should be tightened to the action phrase “Adopt rezonings for the Ocean Street Area plan by the end of 2024, and submit to Coastal Commision as Local Coastal Program Amendment by [date]
  • 1.3b - Time frame is to “Meet annually with the development community to consider process improvements.” Also, 1.4b time frame is to “Meet annually with the development community”. These are commitments to meetings; they should include development of an action or improvement plan based on input.
  • 1.3c time frame should be tightened to the action phrase “Eliminate minimum parking requirements citywide by January 2028”
  • 1.5a and 1.5b are focused on important facilitation of ADU development, and both commit to “consider” amendments or modifications , with no dates. 1.5e Time frame should be tightened to “Amend ADU owner occupancy regulations by May 2024”

Policy 2 - Affordable Housing

  • 2.1a and 2.1b and 2.2a Time frames all are “Review...and present...” related to the Inclusionary Ordinance. The language should be tightened to the outcomes:
  • 2.1a “Amend Inclusionary Ordinance to ensure requirements provide maximum number of affordable units or deeper levels of affordability without being a barrier to housing development by [DATE]”
  • 2.1b “Amend Inclusionary Ordinance with programs and incentives to increase rental and home ownership opportunities for workforce housing by [DATE]”
  • 2.2a “ Amend Inclusionary Ordinance to update affordable housing options such as provided offsite or incentivizing land dedication by [DATE]
  • 2.2g - Time frame should be tightened to the action phrase “Allow 100 percent affordable residential development to be considered a “by-right” use by December 2024” (new date suggested).
  • 2.3a and 2.3b lack specific commitments and action language related to Density Bonus Ordinance as it exceeds State Density Bonus law
  • 2.4b, 2.4c and 2.6 include the vague language of “on an ongoing basis” and “whenever possible” which are difficult to ascertain for success.
  • 2.4a, 2.4b and 2.5a “coordinate” or “partner” with others to an unspecified outcome or milestone with date.

Policy 3 - Special Needs and Homelessness

  • 3.1a, 3.1c, 3.2a, 3.2b, 3.2c, 3.3a, 3.3g, 3.3h, 3.3i, include the vague language of “on an ongoing basis” and “when possible” which are difficult to ascertain for success.
  • 3.1c, 3.2a, 3.3c, 3.3e, 3.4a 3.5a “Work with” , “Assist” ,“coordinate with”, “actively seek partnerships”, “continue support for”, “continue to collaborate” to unspecified outcomes or milestones with date.

Policy 4 - Housing Assistance

  • 4.1a, 4.2b “Continue to contract...”, “Continue to support....” with unspecified outcomes or milestones with date.

Policy 5 - Neighborhood Vitality

  • 5.5b - Time frame should be tightened to the action phrase “Implement new anti-displacement measures by September 2025
  • 5.3a, 5.3b includes the vague language of “Explore...” and “Seek out...” which are difficult to ascertain for success.
  • 5.1a, 5.2a, 5.4c, 5.5a “Continue to implement”, “Continue to administer....”, “Continue to support....”with unspecified outcomes or milestones with date.
  • Time frame should be tightened to the action phrase “Amend Zoning Ordinance to increase base zoning consistent with SB10 by December 2026.”

Policy 6

  • 6.2c - Time frame should be tightened to the action phrase “Amend Zoning Ordinance to expand housing opportunities in single-family zones by December 2026.” (proposed new date)
  • 6.2d - Time frame should be tightened to the action phrase “Amend Zoning Ordinance to increase base zoning consistent with SB10 by December 2026.”
  • 6.1e, 6.2f, 6.4a, 6.4c, 6.4e include the vague language of “on an ongoing basis” which is difficult to ascertain for success.
  • 6.1a, 6.1b “Coordinate”, “Support...”,“Provide support”, “Continue to administer....”, “Continue to support....”with unspecified outcomes or milestones with date.
  • 6.2c and 6.2d - these similar initiatives for single-family and high resource areas should have synchronized dates of 2026.
  • 6.2e - local SB 9 ordinance to align with state law should be sooner than 2027
  • 6.4a - investment in “areas of highest need” can spur displacement, this objective should include anti-displacement efforts
  • 6.4b - Time frame should be tightened to the action phrase “Amend the City’s Relocation Ordinance by September 2025”

Policy 7 - Resource Conservation and Environmental Stewardship

  • 7.1a, 7.1b, 7.1c, 7.2b, 7.3a, 7.3b, 7.4b, include the vague language of “on an ongoing basis” with unspecified milestones with date.
  • We appreciate the reference to the Climate Action Plan in 7.2a, which has specific measures and actions.