Planning Commission to Review City Housing Plan

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

July 7, 2020

Work on the City of Morro Bay’s Housing Element is coming to a head with the Planning Commission slated to take up the document at its next meeting.

One of seven required elements in the City’s general plan, the Housing Element update this time is taking a different track. The City has joined its counterparts across San Luis Obispo County in an agreement that will take a regional approach to addressing the housing shortage.

Called the San Luis Obispo Countywide Regional Compact (on housing), the 1-page agreement is intended to address housing needs in an area that has been called the eighth, least-affordable place to live in the entire U.S.

“According to the National Association of Home Builders,” reads a staff report, “only 20.9 percent of the area’s share of homes are affordable to a family earning the area’s median income.”

According to the County’s Housing Element of the General Plan [2014-2019], “the chronic undersupply of housing affordable and suitable for locally employed people has economic, social and environmental impacts.”

The lack of affordable housing is a “significant challenge,” the report said, “and requires the efforts of public agencies, private industries, residents and working individuals to overcome it.”

In 2018, the State passed a law calling on local agencies to plan for more housing growth and though it took a year-and-a-half, SLO County is now fully onboard.

According to the report from the April 14 Morro Bay City Council meeting, “Pursuant to State law, the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) determines the region’s future housing needs by affordability level and directs the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) to assign the required housing units to each of the seven Cities and the County’s unincorporated areas.”

Called the “Regional Housing Needs Allocation [RHNA] Process,” SLO County needed to plan for 10,810 new housing units by 2028. The Council of Governments divvied up the total by city and county.

Total housing units for Morro Bay’s RHNA share is 391 — 97 for “very low income;” 60 for “lower income;” 70 for “moderate income;” and 164 for “above average income” people, as defined by the State Health and Safety Codes.

The H&S Codes define very low as 50% or less of the median income; lower income is 80% of median; moderate income is 120% or less of median; and above moderate income is anyone over the moderate level.

Other cities’ allocations are: Arroyo Grande — 692; Atascadero — 843; Grover Beach — 369; Paso Robles — 1,446; Pismo Beach — 459; San Luis Obispo — 3,354; and SLO County (unincorporated towns) — 3,256.
The Regional Compact has six stated goals:
• Strengthen community quality of life;
• Share regional prosperity;
• Create balanced communities;
• Value agriculture and natural resources;
• Support equitable opportunities; and,
• Foster accelerated housing production.
The Compact isn’t written in stone but is an “inspirational document.”

Work on Morro Bay’s Housing Element Update reached a milestone April 4 when the Community Development Department released a draft document for public review.

It includes a forecast (by SLOCOG) of the future population in Morro Bay, predicting the town would grow by 20%, going from 10,234 in 2010 to 12,261 in 2050.

In another chart, Morro Bay had a total of 4,846 households in 2010 and just 4,846 in 2017, an anemic growth rate of less than 1%.

Another chart says of those 4,846 households, 2,774 were owner-occupied (57%) and 2,072 rentals (43%). However, “It should be noted that some of the owner-occupied households are occupied seasonally or are used as vacation rentals. Vacant Units are not included in the totals,” reads the Housing Element.

In 2010, the city had a total of 6,320 housing units, including single-family homes, mobile homes, and apartments and grew to 6,466 by 2018, according to State Department of Finance statistics. That’s a 2.3% total growth over nearly a decade.

Vacation rentals and homes used only occasionally or seasonally take up the vast majority of what’s considered rental housing. According to the Housing Element, “of the 1,360 total vacant units recorded in Morro Bay in 2017, 29 were for rent, 34 were for sale, and 1,194 [88%] were for seasonal, recreational, or occasional uses.”

If readers are wondering where all these nearly 400 new homes are supposed to be built, the City has designated densities and income types for all vacant properties.

Of interest are large, vacant parcels outside the City Limits and former industrial sites. At the Tri-W ranchlands surrounding the site of the new sewer treatment plant, the Housing Element is calling for low density and just 65 housing units over 45.52 acres.

A parcel on Little Morro Creek Road and north of Radcliff Avenue is slated for 75 units of low density. Also, a 9.96-acre parcel on North Main Street — site of a former Texaco fuel depot now owned by Chevron but is for sale — is slated for high density and 215 potential units. It’s also listed for extremely low, very low or low incomes.

And another large parcel of 10.06 acres located at 3300 Panorama Dr., — site of an old Navy fuel depot — is listed for medium density and some 45 units for moderate-income people.

And happening now, is a proposal to build 35 affordable apartments in a mix of one, two and three bedroom units at the corner of Atascadero Road and Sunset Avenue by the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo.

Some opposition to the project by neighbors concerned with issues like density, traffic and parking was delivered at the planning commission’s review. The Council is supposed to take up the project sometime in the next few meetings.

The Planning Commission will be review the draft Housing Element at its Tuesday, July 7 meeting (6 p.m. at the Vet’s Hall). The meeting will be virtual and interested readers can participate via Zoom or using the call-in number. City Planner Nancy Hubbard said the web link and the call in number for the meeting will be posted along with the official agenda, probably today (July 2) in advance of the July 7 meeting. See:

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