Contractors blast incumbents |

Contractors blast incumbents

John HartHabitat for Humanity volunteers work on a house on Slate Creek Drive and Ridge Road Wednesday. Karen Ostergard puts trim around the floor boards in the living-dining room areas.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Citing concerns about the lack of action on affordable-housing issues, the Nevada County Contractors Association’s Political Action Committee is supporting the two main challengers in the Nevada County supervisors’ races.

“The county created an Affordable Housing Task Force, funded a $60,000 study, then refused to implement the task force recommendations,” said Jim Crowley, PAC’s chairman.

In addition to the PAC, contractors supporting challengers Robin Sutherland and Drew Bedwell include Kevin Casey of Caseywood Corp. and Bruce Ivy of Bruce Ivy Construction, according to an association press release.

Campaign finance records show PAC contributed $5,000 to each to Sutherland and Bedwell’s campaigns this month, plus donations of newspaper and radio ads, making it one of the largest contributors in the two races.

NCCA cites what it claims is the failure of incumbent Supervisors Bruce Conklin and Elizabeth Martin to support the development of work-force housing. The group also claims the county has failed after almost four years to develop an affordable-housing program.

Martin, Conklin and other officials disagree with the contractors’ claims. Two years after the Affordable Housing Task Force issued its recommendations in an October 2000 report, they say the county has put them into action through various old and new projects.

They also say the county is writing recommendations into the county’s General Plan, which is being updated.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Conklin said of the contractors’ claims. “Perhaps people are frustrated by how slow things move, but that’s how government moves.”

Jim Carney, the county’s director of Housing and Community Development, said the county’s action on affordable housing compares favorably with any rural county in the state, and even with some urban entities.

And county officials say they can’t pick up a hammer and saw and build affordable houses – that’s the contractors’ job.

Figures were not available from the contractors association on how many affordable houses have been built by its members recently.

The organization cited the county’s second-unit pilot program as part of the reason it’s not supporting the incumbents.

Second units were one of the task force’s first recommendations, a way to provide quick action on the affordable- housing problem. But second units were met with a barrage of protest from neighborhood groups and the Rural Quality Coalition.

Supervisors voted in February to institute a pilot program, but the provision allowing for 30 second units in rural areas included a stipulation that has drawn fire from contractors.

The ordinance bars second units in areas designated “very high fire districts” on a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection map.

Crowley said so much of the county is in the very high fire district zone that it basically shuts down the second-unit program.

“In rural areas of the county, it covers it all, and you can’t build in those areas because of the high fire restriction,” said Crowley.

He added that many in the building industry believe the supervisors used the ordnance to make it look like they were taking action on affordable housing while doing nothing.

Crowley was on the task force and is now moving forward on his own 39-unit work-force housing project in Grass Valley.

Martin defended the fire restrictions, saying the state has Fire Safe standards the county has to obey, whether it likes them or not. There are also liability issues with second units – demonstrated by a catastrophic wildfire in Oakland 10 years ago.

Conklin said he disagrees with contractors who say fire restrictions scuttle the program.

Second units are appropriate around cities, said Conklin, but not in areas with high fire hazard, narrow dirt roads and dead-end streets.

The second-unit program hasn’t met with much response, judging from the number of permits requested. Figures provided by the county Building Department show just one second-unit building permit has been requested so far.

Clint McKinley, director of the department, said the permit was denied by the county Planning Department because it was a proposal to convert an existing home. The pilot program is for new homes.

Figures on the percentage of county land covered under the very high fire district provision were unavailable.

Martin said the county has fought developers when they try to pencil out high-density housing from their proposed projects.

“Despite the rhetoric that the development community is committed to building these houses, when push comes to shove, the first thing they do is try to get out of it,” said Martin.

As an example, Carney said developers tried to get rid of half of the housing area in the Olympia Plaza project when its annexation was proposed into Grass Valley.

Carney said supervisors Peter Van Zant and Conklin insisted on an annexation agreement that put the housing back in, scattering it throughout the project. (A mix of retail and housing is one of the top recommendations of the housing task force.)

County officials say they’ve implemented many of the task force’s recommendations, bringing in millions of dollars to help people buy affordable housing and fix up and weatherize older homes – two of the 36 task force recommendations.

In the last 10 years, the county has raised almost $57 million in government funds for weatherization, new development, first-time homebuyers, rental assistance, housing rehab and assistance for the homeless.

Carney notes the county obtained the funds despite a handicap – it doesn’t have as many households below the poverty line as other areas competing for funds.

County says progress made on affordable housing

Nevada County officials insist they are moving forward in implementing the recommendations of the Affordable Housing Task Force.

Of the task force1s 36 recommendations, 12 are slated for inclusion in the county General Plan update, according to a chart provided by Jim Carney, director of county Housing and Community Development.

Some, like a suggestion to pursue state funding, are not really applicable to a General Plan update.

County officials say they have implemented many of the task force1s top 10 recommendations as projects came up, not waiting for them to become part of the General Plan. Activity includes the following:

€ County officials said they negotiated an agreement to keep high-density housing in the Olympia Plaza project. Supervisors also approved a zoning change from commercial to residential for a project in Cedar Ridge.

A top 10 recommendation is to allow mixed-use developments by including residential in office-professional, commercial and retail districts. The county and cities should also identify industrial, commercial and retail sites eligible for rezoning to include higher-density multifamily residential use, the recommendation stated.

€ Carney said the county gave 50 percent fee waivers and deferrals for three nonprofit, affordable-housing projects: Habitat for Humanity1s Slate Creek project, Eden Ranch and The Courtyards at Penn Valley. The county also loaned money to buy land for the latter, said Supervisor Bruce Conklin.

The task force said the county, cities and other agencies should adopt a policy to allow for deferred payment of fees and full or partial waivers of planning, mitigation and building permit fees as incentives to build affordable housing.

€ The county adopted a second-unit pilot program ‹ one of the task force1s top 10 recommendations.

€ Carney said the county allowed duplexes to be mixed into the Eden Ranch project. The task force said the county and cities should allow duplexes in residential areas.

€ The task force wants senior assisted living to have 20 percent of the units affordable to low-income seniors.

That recommendation has not been adopted yet, but is on the list for the General Plan update. The county has received a $35,000 technical assistance grant to develop low-income, senior-assisted housing.

€ Carney said it1s difficult to build an affordable-housing trust fund advocated by the task force because of Proposition 13. Passed in 1978, the proposition limits property tax increases, limits which are often said to put a strain on government finances. The task force suggested the trust fund is a longer-term item, requiring three years or more.

€ Supervisor Elizabeth Martin said the county is streamlining its permit process as part of re-engineering the Community Development Agency.

3We do it for everybody, but we definitely do it for affordable-housing programs,² said Martin. The task force wanted priority processing, pre-application meetings and accurate and consistent information for affordable housing.

€ Carney, contractors and many others have been talking about affordable housing. The task force recommended educating the public about the need for affordable housing.

€ Carney said he has a written proposal for a countywide umbrella housing authority suggested by the task force, but doesn1t have an agreement among all jurisdictions. Truckee has a memorandum of understanding on the county managing its housing projects, said Carney, and Nevada City has expressed interest in the idea.

€ The Olympia Plaza agreement and a tax-base-sharing proposal with Grass Valley meet the call for annexation agreements with the cities to enure that multi-family housing remains zoned at the same or higher density when annexed to cities.

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