Council approves SPHA bid for East Area 1
affordable housing in-lieu fees

June 25, 2014
Santa Paula News

A plan to have the area housing authority control what would eventually be almost $7 million in set-aside funds was approved by the City Council over the strong objections of one councilman.

Councilman Martin Hernandez said the request appeared to be “very fast-tracked,” especially as the council had just received a copy of the short letter from the Santa Paula Housing Authority.

In years’ past the city struck a deal with Limoneira Co. that when 1,500 units were built in East Area the company would not be required to construct a state mandated percentage of very-low and low-income housing. Instead, Limoneira now will pay an in-lieu fee of $4,642.86 per unit according to the city reports, a total not stated of about $6,946,290.

Such funding would come in incremental payments based on the number of units constructed over the years’ long build out period.

The April 14 letter from SPHA Director Ramsey Jay to City Manager Jaime Fontes  noted advantages of having the authority administer the funds. 

“As you consider various options in investing of affordable housing resources, we ask that the following comments be part of your deliberation,” notes Jay. 

What follows is an outline of the history, mission and accomplishments of the housing authority.

The letter from Jay concludes with, “Having resources granted to the authority will give us the opportunity to fulfill our mission of making Santa Paula a better place for all.”

Elisabeth Amador Paniagua, a special projects consultant, gave the council a history and update of the inclusionary housing funds as well as the “partnership” request from the housing authority.

Hernandez said although he appreciates the work of the SPHA, “My biggest concern with this item is the process,” and the lack of “transparency... it’s a significant amount of money.”

He noted, “Other groups in town have been asking for years,” about the projected funding and how it would be spent.

With the groundbreaking not scheduled until at least next year Hernandez said the issue of in-lieu fee revenue, “is one that has no urgency to it in my opinion. 

“I think it is incumbent upon us,” he added, to have a more “open process” when it comes to allocating the future funds.

Mayor Rick Cook noted that any project funded by the allocation would still have to go through Planning Commission and council approval.

The SPHA whose  members are appointed by the council said Cook so, “We do have some control over it,” and the agency has a variety of housing it can create including that for veterans and seniors.

Councilman Bob Gonzales agreed and said he supports “the idea of dedicating money to seniors and veterans,” funds he believes could be “parlayed” into more with project specific federal funding.

Gonzales said, “I think earmarking the funds for those kinds of projects is ideal,” as well as a percentage being set-aside for home rehabilitation projects, the latter discussed in the past with Councilman Ralph Fernandez.

There is a “tremendous need” for rehabilitation and Fernandez noted, “I think we have an existing need within the existing community” that should have funding opportunities.

“We lent people money when we had our own program and got burned,” said Cook who questioned if the authority could oversee such programs.

Jay spoke of authority projects, those served and their income requirements, funding issues and future housing needs.

He noted if the council wanted the SPHA to oversee a rehabilitation program, “We can do it... we’re a tool within your toolbox and if those are the programs,” the community desires they would be available.

Gonzales asked for an explanation of The Orchards, a former West Main Street convalescent hospital converted into low-income senior housing and asked if such standards for quality and quality of life would be met by future projects for seniors, veterans and the homeless.

After more comments Gonzales noted, “Maybe a question that isn’t appropriate, but how long is Ramsey Jay going to be around?”

Jay said the timing of his retirement “is another four or five years... “

The SPHA board, said Gonzales, “Has a vision and a really good feel for the community... they represent the community very well but you’re the driver of the bus,” and “it’s important for me to know,” the authority will continue to “have someone able to steer that bus in the best direction for the community.”

Later SPHA Commissioner Bob Russell told the council although commissioners are aware Ramsey would eventually retire, “we’re not letting him go... he would stay on as a consultant.” 

Although supportive Vice Mayor Jim Tovias said he wanted assurances the council would have the final authority over projects and City Attorney John Cotti suggested the council include language in the resolution detailing housing parameters. 

“It seems very fast-tracked,” said Hernandez who said although he appreciated Jay’s letter, “obviously, some things have to be worked out... there’s plenty of time to work this out to everybody’s satisfaction.” 

He asked the council to hold off while staff prepares another report noting concerns and making the council the authority on project spending.

Hernandez also questioned the success of past rehabilitation programs.

Paniagua said Hernandez was correct: “historically” the city averaged only about two rehab projects annually as “sometimes it is difficult to get people to go through the formal process,” that includes title recording and other legal requirements.

Hernandez cast the lone nay vote on the issue.

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