Blog To HCD: Santa Cruz YIMBY comments on Santa Cruz County Housing Element (February 2024)

Letter sent to HCD on March 12, 2024 re: Santa Cruz County

March 12, 2024

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 Housing Element of November 14, 2023 updated in February 2024.  We appreciate the work of county planning staff on the many changes to the Housing Element over the past months. 

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing

HCD letter of Jan 16, 2024: “Programs: As noted in the prior review, goals and actions must specifically respond to the analysis and to the identified and prioritized contributing factors to fair housing issues and must be significant and meaningful enough to overcome identified patterns and trends….Specifically, the element should add actions to enhance housing mobility(housing choices and affordability) in higher resource, higher income and concentrated areas of affluence (regardless of the RHNA) and to revitalize communities through place-based strategies in lower resource, lower income and higher poverty areas.

We note the additional language supporting housing mobility:

  • Program H-1J notes where SB10 rezoning is happening, but the parcel list hasn't changed, so several RCAAs with largely low-density single family homes (1208, 1212) still have no low-income housing planned. Note that the table HE-A-19 indicates that Census tract 1222.02 has 0 low income homes, but the narrative says 60 low income homes.
  • Program H-1M includes the vague language of “consideration of actions…if necessary”. This should be a true commitment to action.
  • Program H-3L is a terrific addition of place-based improvements in lower resource, lower income and higher poverty areas.

Development standards as constraints

HCD letter of Jan 16, 2024: Public Facility Sites: The element now generally discusses recent examples of public facility sites but should also discuss their suitability for development in the planning period, including status, anticipated schedule, and any known barriers to development in the planning period. Based on the outcomes of this analysis, Program 3I should be revised with a schedule of additional actions including completing entitlements, issuing permits and alternative actions (e.g., additional incentives, rezoning) by a specified date if sites do not progress as anticipated.

  • The county added Program H-3K to look at constraints related to housing on Public Facility sites if development is not progressing. This is generally outreach and review. We recommend an analysis in addition to more specific commitments.
  • We repeat our request that the county conduct an economic analysis of the feasibility of development in the jurisdiction given the governmental constraints, such as pro-forma analysis of standard/model development projects. We repeat our concern that declaring that there is no constraint to production is not a sufficient analysis; nor is a comparison to other nearby jurisdictions, e.g. from Appendix HE-D:
    • “The Zoning Code does not pose an unnecessary constraint to the development of affordable housing.”
    • “Parking requirements are low enough to not pose a constraint;” and 
    • “Residential Development standards, such as building height, parking requirements, floor area ratio (FAR), lot coverage and setbacks, are typical of those applied in other suburban California jurisdictions.” 

Processing and Permit Procedures

HCD letter, Oct 23, 2023:  Approval Times: “The element must include analysis of the length of time between receiving approval for a housing development and submittal of an application for building permits. The element must address any hindrance on the development of housing and include programs as appropriate.”

The County does not include any programs to address hindrance related to approvals.

  • It has come to our attention that the County meters their intake of Application Submittal (Step 1 on page HE-D-36), in violation of the Permit Streamlining Act, using the same portal  for ministerial applications as discretionary applications:
    • The county unlocks an Application Intake Portal for 1 day.  
    • This unlocking requires an appointment.
    • The appointments get scheduled out approx. 2 weeks. 
    • The appointments are made only for Mondays.

HCD letter, Oct 23, 2023: Local Processing and Permit Procedures: ​”Lastly, the element should analyze the total processing times of developments for potential constraints, as multifamily developments take an unusually long time for final approval (greater than twelve months) and add programs as appropriate to streamline local permit processing and procedures.”

  • We commented earlier that the County has not provided data to substantiate their claims for processing times. The County should identify the source for the numbers in Table HE-D-11 in Appendix H-D and commit to showing its compliance with the Permit Streamlining Act by providing up to date statistics on processing times on the website. 

Public Engagement

HCD: “Public Participation: Local governments shall make a diligent effort to achieve public participation of all economic segments of the community in the development of the Housing Element, and the element shall describe this effort. (Gov. Code, § 65583, subd.(c)(9).)

Some of our comments were submitted with prior versions. The County should include a section capturing public comments and their response as other jurisdictions do.