Brewer: It’s Time to Listen to Local Communities When it Comes to Surplus Land Resources

Credit: @JuanTallo for Jamboree Housing

In 2019 the California State Legislature passed AB 1486—a piece of legislation that was closely followed by local agencies and municipalities, but largely flew under the radar for the general public, as complex land use laws tend to do. However, for community activist groups across California, including right here in Orange County, AB 1486 was a sort of formal validation of what local communities have always known to be true—public resources should be used first and foremost to benefit the general public.

For years, cities and local agencies often sold surplus land to the highest bidder—little thought was given to how these scarce land resources could be used to improve the community overall, whether through the creation of more affordable housing or the expansion of open, green spaces. AB 1486 put an end to that by requiring cities to publicly notice available surplus land, and by mandating that they enter good-faith negotiations with developers of affordable housing, including a mandate that one out of every four homes built on surplus land must be affordable.

This simple change to the Surplus Land Act has spurred affordable housing development throughout the state, something desperately needed at a time when 1 in 5 California households are considered “severely cost-burdened” based on how much they pay in rent or on their monthly mortgages. These legislative changes also created opportunities for community groups to have an actual voice in the process and plainly make their case for what publicly owned surplus land should be used for.

Community-based groups made such a case for the Willowick Golf Course, officially deemed surplus land by the Garden Grove City Council in February of this year. The Rise Up! Willowick Coalition formed in April of 2019 to provide a voice to residents that wanted to see their local leaders prioritize things like affordable housing, open space, and community centers for current residents. All reasonable requests that can and should be accommodated by any developer seriously committed utilizing public resources for the public good.

As an affordable housing advocate and community activist, I’ve been lucky enough to find my “work home” at Jamboree, a local nonprofit affordable housing developer with a community health and wellness focused mission. We believe that our affordable housing communities must be more than shelter, which is why we’ve incorporated things like a HeadStart Learning Center, onsite mental health counseling, and public health clinics into the design and financing of our developments. We also believe that the most successful developers are the ones that listen to the community from the start and commit to that on-going communication well after the construction site has been cleared away.

The Willowick Community Partners, a partnership that includes Jamboree along with Primestor and City Ventures, has submitted a proposal we believe reflects a commitment to the Santa Anita neighborhood and its residents. The proposal provides for 400+ affordable apartments which will serve extremely low-, very low-, and low-income families—the exact families that are already living in the community but doing so under increasing housing cost pressure. The proposal also adds acres of open green space which is desperately needed in a community where only 4% of the total land is set aside for parks and open space. With the COVID-19 pandemic eviscerating city budgets and revenues, private-public partnerships like the Willowick Community Partners are able to deliver affordable housing and open space by blending in revenue generating uses that also benefit the wider community—like for-sale housing, apartments, and retail amenities.

And this is important because, while AB 1486 has gone a long way in prioritizing affordable housing on surplus land, the legislation does not require a city to actually chose a plan put forth by an affordable housing sponsor, only to negotiate with them in good faith. Which means at the end of the day, a city can still choose to build what they want, with who they want–whether it benefits the community or not. Which is why the Willowick Community Partners submitted a proposal that was responsive to the specific interests of the community, while still providing the City of Garden Grove with millions in economic return and revenue.

Jamboree and our partners will continue to listen to the needs of the communities we build in–and we’re ready to work with cities who are too.

Kelsey Brewer is the Communications and Policy Manager for Jamboree Housing Corporation, one of California’s largest non-profit affordable housing developers. Prior to her role at Jamboree she worked at the Association of California Cities—Orange County, serving as lead lobbyist on AB 448 which created the Orange County Housing Finance Trust.

Opinions expressed in community opinion pieces belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please email [email protected]

 

For a different view on this issue, consider: 

Rodriguez: An Open Letter to the City of Garden Grove and Developers Trying to Monetize Willowick-Residents of Color will not be Tokenized