As coastal cities throughout Orange County struggle with building affordable housing, Laguna Beach officials are hoping to close the city’s housing gaps by taking a hard look at three different sites.
Laguna Beach has made little progress in creating affordable housing since adopting its housing element — a plan that’s supposed to help cities meet state-mandated housing goals.
Now, city officials are looking to change that.
“There’s a consensus with this council, and I would argue this community, that we are tired of just talking about this issue, and we want to do something,” Councilmember Alex Rounaghi said during Tuesday’s meeting.
The council discussed three different opportunity sites to create new affordable housing units and voted to create a committee to try and secure one of the sites for development.
State officials have mandated that the city must create 118 new units for very-low income residents and 80 new units for low-income residents by 2029.
A housing element update from earlier this year shows zero units for both of these categories.
The city is also required to create 79 units for moderate-income residents and 117 for above-moderate-income residents.
As of March 21, the city had only created 93 units for the above-moderate category.
The most promising development is the expansion of a pre-existing senior housing community near Lang Park. The city could add 31 units of affordable housing for seniors onto this site by expanding into the city-owned park space, according to the staff report.
Although the existing buildings are owned by a nonprofit religious organization, the Laguna Beach Unified School District has the option of purchasing the land in 2041 for $1.
On Tuesday night, the council voted to create a two-person ad hoc committee to enter negotiations with the school district to attempt to extend the church’s current lease so the city could build more units in that space.
“There’s not an easy road forward for extending this lease, but there’s a pathway,” Rounaghi said. “That would be a way for us to work through some of the issues in extending this lease. The idea of letting this lease expire and the biggest affordable housing for seniors site in town go away, to me that’s a nonstarter, but we need to convince the school board of that.”
The committee will consist of Rounaghi and Mayor Bob Whalen.
Some residents expressed concern about losing some of the city’s park space.
“We are really lacking park land in south Laguna and the city as a whole,” Anne Christoph said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “I think that’s a very questionable idea because they serve the whole community.”
Other residents emphasized the need for low-cost housing for families in the city, not just seniors.
“It seems to me that Laguna might be more desperately in need of housing for families, and I know it reduces the number of units if your designing for families, but it doesn’t necessarily reduce the number of residents,” resident Catherine Jurca said during the meeting
The other two opportunity sites don’t have any pre-existing housing on the lots, meaning the city would have to start from scratch.
The first location is a bus yard owned by the Laguna Beach School District, but staff said the substantial financial investment needed at this site would make housing developments difficult.
The second location is a city-owned parking lot on Ocean Avenue. There is enough space to create about 15 affordable housing units if the city moved forward with this development.
The council also directed staff to work with the Housing and Human Services Committee on a process to move forward with the Ocean Avenue site.
Local officials in Orange County’s coastal towns have described the challenges in creating affordable housing in these cities with higher real estate prices than their inland neighbors.
A plan proposed earlier this month in Huntington Beach could also force all future affordable housing projects to go before a city-wide vote, making these projects harder to push through.
The move comes after California state leaders sued Surf City earlier this year for failing to adopt a new housing plan.
In Newport Beach, council members voted last week to slash the affordable housing unit in a future development in half, calling into question where the hundreds of state-mandated affordable units will go.
Costa Mesa officials are also considering mandating affordable housing at new developments throughout the city, with city council members and planning commissioners still studying the proposal.
The Laguna Beach City Council meets again on August 8 at 5 p.m.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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