OP-ED: If Planning Commission Can’t Create Enforceable Change in Long Beach Housing, Who Can?

housinglongbeachmeeting

After receiving a request for Spanish and Khmer translation services for Thursday night’s meeting, the commission failed to provide accommodation for Khmer speakers so Housing Long Beach provided their own. Photo by Patrick Moreno

By Patrick Moreno | I had the pleasure of speaking along with my fellow community members before the Long Beach Planning Commission last Thursday night at a study session regarding the release of an updated draft of the housing portion of the city’s General Plan. The document was sent to the Planning Commission on Thursday and entered the public comment phase following its presentation at the meeting, held in City Council chambers.

The ‘housing element’ was– to my understanding at the time, like a set of rules governing what the developers working within Long Beach city limits could and couldn’t do. It was later revealed to me that this was not the case.

After the testimony of about two dozen people was heard and the nonprofit Housing Long Beach presented its research report on the city’s growth needs, the comments were met with a very positive response from the commissioners, but with one small caveat: Becky Blair, the Commission’s Chair, and wanted to make it very clear that the housing element was not capable of creating any “enforceable” regulations on housing. Furthermore, Blair inferred that adding stricter language and clear-cut and enforceable deadlines for affordable housing clauses of the document would not be possible.

It seemed to me that the commissioners (or at least the chair) felt the document and their authority were somewhat ineffectual when it came to making any sort of demand or regulation on the physical outcome of development in the city. On the housing element itself, it is described merely as “a tool to guide communities in periodically thinking about and planning for present and future housing needs.”

So after being praised and then let down gently, I felt pandered to, and questioned the sincerity of the commissioners who agreed with our policies. We heard that our suggestions for the housing element were good ideas, just that the City’s planning commission were not the forces capable of achieving the goals we set out to achieve.

{loadposition latestnews}My question if this is the case is: If the board with the responsibility of overseeing the draft housing element does not have any real power to put those guidelines into laws and enforceable regulations, then who is making the laws for these things?

I know that it can be hard to even put a fence up over eight feet in some cities because of strict building codes, but here in Long Beach, the planning commission doesn’t even have the teeth to make those kinds of demands of developers.

The mission statement of Housing Long Beach is “improving, preserving and increasing the supply of affordable housing for the well-being of Long Beach residents.” If securing a long-term route to that end is not possible through the city’s planning commission and its housing element, then where is it possible?

Some of the initiatives that Housing Long Beach want added to the already-180-plus page document included a mixed-income housing ordinance, a rent trust fund with the city, and stricter language regarding future plans for the development of affordable housing.

These initiatives are just a few of those capable of at least making strides towards a more progressive housing policy which would better address the housing problems of excess rents and overcrowding among others.

The housing element is in the public comment phase until the end of the Summer. For more information about Housing Long Beach or to join the community discussion, visit housinglb.org.

Long Beach Draft Housing Element 2008-2014

Housing Long Beach: Housing Matters Research Paper

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