By Alex Rounaghi
The City Council recently approved the Housing and Human Services Committee’s 2022 work plan. If you check out the document, you will see that we have an ambitious agenda. With new, hard-nosed state legislation pressing every region to get to work on solving our severe housing crunch, the task of tackling our city’s needs has never been more important. As I wrote in an earlier column, failing to plan for enough housing would expose our city government to fines, lawsuits, and even the loss of local control over land use. Inaction is unacceptable.
After months of research and discussion, the committee worked with city staff on developing these ambitious but attainable goals:
• Recommend policies to promote affordable housing and fulfill Regional Housing Needs Allocation mandates (we must realistically plan for 394 units over the next eight years). Our committee will research, review, and make recommendations to city staff and the planning commission on the housing element’s implementation. We will grapple with zoning constraints related to affordable housing, senior housing, and assisted-living care facilities.
• Research prospects for a local housing trust fund. Our vision is to create a dedicated revenue stream to leverage other funding sources to develop affordable housing programs. Our recommendation for a housing trust fund—executed through a separate entity, not city administration—would ideally be part of our city’s February strategic priorities. Much fact-finding must be done, but we will seek to work with residents and the philanthropic community to gauge interest in private donations, including homes, which could benefit our city with affordable housing opportunities.
• Promote and assist in the development of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). Our ADU subcommittee has provided extensive analysis and did much of the legwork on the ADU ordinance approved last week. Next up is developing a comprehensive ADU handbook, checklist, pre-approved prototype plans, ADU permit application, report on financing tools and resources to assist in ADU construction, cost estimation tool, assessment report, and recommendations for legalizing noncompliant units. We will offer ADU workshops and information on the city’s webpage.
• Explore the feasibility of different housing types and unique new sites. The Affordable Housing Task Force recommended programs outlined in the housing element update. Our committee will continue to convene a volunteer working group consisting of financing and construction experts. This group will identify affordable housing opportunities based on community- and data-driven ideas and economic analysis. Previously, they prepared case studies—hypotheticals that can be used to inform housing policy—to explore opportunities on city- and school district-owned sites. Other options include public, private, and church-owned, and infill sites.
• Partner with community organizations to address human services needs. We think it’s smart to review the city’s Community Assistance Grants grant applications and work with our city liaisons and local nonprofits to strategically fill gaps in human services. With potential funding coming from the federal infrastructure bill, we hope to expand access to Wi-Fi, especially for our low-income seniors.
• Engage in meaningful community engagement and outreach. Watch for communication efforts offering speakers for groups, updates on social media and in news outlets, public meetings, a Laguna Beach High School mentor program, and partnerships with community organizations.
In this painful era of tribalism and toxicity in government at all levels, it’s tempting to retreat and take comfort in groups of like-minded allies. But this moment requires just the opposite. To address long-term, complex solutions, we must recommit to engaging all sectors of the community in the public policy-making process, and that is what our committee strives to do.
I invite you to learn more about the Housing and Human Services Committee’s work by attending our virtual public meetings at 4 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. Complete information can be viewed at lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/council/committees/housingcomm.htm.
Alex is chair of the Laguna Beach Housing and Human Services Committee.