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Affordable housing rule ‘socialism,’ says Costa Mesa councilman

The Costa Mesa city council voted in November to approve a plan to replace the Costa Mesa Motor Inn with a 224-unit luxury apartment complex. The decision sparked protests and a lawsuit alleging that the plan violates state law because the new apartments do not include affordable units.

Is it socialism to require developers to include affordable housing in new home projects?

That’s what one Costa Mesa councilman said when asked to consider a proposed “inclusionary zoning” law at the City Council’s meeting April 19.

“Excuse me if I’m not a socialist,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who opposed studying the possibility of such an ordinance. “What do you think this is? It’s socialized housing.”

Requiring such a trade-off is “theft,” Righeimer added. People who can’t afford rent or home prices in his city should “look at where you can afford” to live.

Rent averaged $1,928 a month for a large-complex apartment in Costa Mesa this past winter, and the median price for a Costa Mesa home was $675,000 in March, real estate market trackers reported.

More than 101,000 low-income Orange County households can’t find affordable rentals, according to the San Francisco-based nonprofit California Housing Partnership Corp.

A shortfall of 50,000 to 62,000 housing units could cripple Orange County employers’ ability to recruit and retain a capable workforce, the Orange County Business Council reported in its 2015 Workforce Housing Scorecard.

Costa Mesa leaders have been trying to increase affordable housing since they launched an effort to clean up Harbor Boulevard motels, which some see as havens for prostitution and drug use and others see as low-cost lodging for the poor.

One project, seeking to replace the Costa Mesa Motor Inn with a 224-unit luxury apartment complex, sparked a lawsuit.

Motel residents and the Irvine-based Kennedy Commission, an affordable housing advocate, said in a January lawsuit that state law requires the proposed apartments include housing for low- and very-low-income residents.

Some past and present Costa Mesa council members requested a review of whether the city should adopt inclusionary zoning to increase “workforce housing.”

“Teacher’s aides, people who work in the retail industry (and in) food preparation need housing,” former Councilwoman Wendy Leece told the council last week. “Driving out to Corona and Riverside, clogging up the freeways; I think it behooves us to study this issue more.”

Righeimer and Mayor Stephen Mensinger argued inclusionary zoning would make new development too costly. If you force developers to include lower-cost housing, Righeimer said, new projects “won’t get built.”

“What it is is stealing. It’s taking money from somebody that doesn’t belong to you,” he added. “Government comes in, passes laws to say, ‘You pay money because I have power over you. I’ve got votes up here, and you can’t build here unless you give money to somebody.’ That’s called theft.”

Concluding, Righeimer issued “a wake-up call” to his fellow residents: “If you cannot afford to live here, and your kids can’t have decent housing, you should look at where you can afford. That is not an elitist statement.”

Then, he called inclusionary zoning “socialist.”

The speech ignited an angry outburst from Councilwoman Katrina Foley. “That is ridiculous,” she said. “He’s calling people socialists.”

She added that such zoning is “not socialism, it is negotiation. You’re giving away benefits” to developers.

Councilwoman Sandra Genis agreed, saying the developer’s property gains value when high-density bonuses are approved.

“Yes, it is a redistribution of wealth. But when the city provides increased density, that’s additional wealth for the landowner,” Genis said.

Cesar Covarrubias, Kennedy Commission executive director, called inclusionary zoning one of several tools widely used throughout the country.

A Costa Mesa staff report said a third of California cities and counties have some form of inclusionary zoning, including 10 in Orange County. Typically, such laws require that 10 percent to 20 percent of new housing units be affordable to low-income residents.

“It’s something that the city should consider,” Covarrubias said. “What’s really clear here in Orange County is we have an affordable housing crisis.”

Source: The Orange County Register

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