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Susan George: Jobs first for Penn Valley sustainability

Other Voices
Susan George

The State of California mandates high density zoning as a way to ensure that jurisdictions meet their required share of the Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) for low-income housing. Like many rural counties, Nevada County must rezone a number of sites to satisfy this state mandate.

An important step in the process is that the selection of sites to be rezoned is determined locally, providing elected representatives with oversight and the ability to apply sound planning strategies that will encourage sustainable communities.

Currently, Penn Valley has housing available for all income levels, and in previous Housing Element cycles the Penn Valley Village Center has participated in rezone projects that increased density and added the RHNA combining district to accommodate high-density low income housing. The concern is that additional high density housing in the Village Center will result in unintended negative consequences; such as the creation of a rural center of poverty, significant loss of economic development opportunity, and insufficient services for the increased population.

A key planning objective adopted by the county as part of its RHNA is the allocation of a lower proportion of housing need to an income category when a jurisdiction already has a disproportionately high share of households in that income category. County staff compiled an “Inventory of Potential Disadvantaged Unincorporated Communities” that ranks the Penn Valley Village Center as having the second lowest median income out of 17 unincorporated communities. In fact, under the guidelines set forth in SB 244 the Village Center has been identified as a Disadvantaged Unincorporated Community (DUC). Clearly, a disproportionately high share of residents having a median income at 80 percent or less of the state median income already lives in the community.

Rezoning of the Penn Valley properties is a short-term solution that will result in long-term challenges for both Penn Valley and the county.

In a rural environment like the Penn Valley Village Center, high-density housing at 16 to 22 units per acre will locate a sizeable population in need of jobs to an area where there is little opportunity for employment, effectively intensifying the existing jobs-housing imbalance. The American Planning Association describes four types of jobs-housing imbalances. The Village Center fits the Type 3 description, as an area that is job-poor and needs more employment opportunities that match the skills of its residents. The solution requires an economic development strategy that will bring jobs to the resident workers.

Instead, the rezone candidates in the Penn Valley Village Center represent a loss of commercially zoned properties and the loss of IDR potential (an interim zoning designation). Ideally, these sites would be developed together as a commercial, R&D, or light industrial project or a combination thereof, which would provide for needed job growth.

As existing business centers in Nevada County are annexed into the cities, business development in Penn Valley and other unincorporated areas of the county will become an increasingly important source of revenue for county government. Losing the opportunity to cultivate a center of commerce in the Village Center will hinder the capacity to generate an increased tax base and further strain the county’s ability to provide needed services.

While revenue opportunities are lost, there will be an increased demand for emergency medical, urgent care facilities, fire protection, law enforcement and the support services most often required by the low income population, presenting both a fiscal and efficiency of delivery challenge for the county. Limited services along with the limited retail needs and infrequent transit availability, will only serve to isolate a population that has minimal available resources.

The Regional Housing Need Combining District overlay will be applied to all the rezoned properties. This means that the sites will be developed “by-right” in that the use and density will not require a Use Permit, Planned Unit Development Plan or other discretionary action, including public hearings, for the use or density of that site. The community will have no legal recourse, no right to say no and no right to shape the developments that affects their communities.

Rezoning of the Penn Valley properties is a short-term solution that will result in long-term challenges for both Penn Valley and the county. High-density housing is more suitable for development closer to a more urban setting that is able to offer increased employment opportunity, diverse services, medical care, transportation and retail needs.

A Penn Valley Community Action Committee has formed to oppose the proposed rezone of sites in the Village Center and with the long-term goal of ensuring that the land-use decisions made today will foster a sustainable community for tomorrow. If you are interested in helping, please contact the Penn Valley Area Chamber of Commerce, 530-432-1802.

Susan George lives in Penn Valley.


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