Half Moon Bay waits on senior farmworker housing vote

Posted on: April 29, 2024

Source: The Daily Journal; Author: Holly Rusch

Planning commissioners trying to balance new state housing laws with local and coastal needs

A proposed 40-unit affordable housing development for senior farmworkers in Half Moon Bay is facing concerns over height and density from the Planning Commission, which continued a vote on it until next week to deliberate discrepancies between local and state housing policy.

Commissioners scrutinized the housing regulations being used to approve the five-story 555 Kelly Ave. development during an April 23 meeting — in particular, a state density bonus law that allows for no density limit, no minimum parking requirements and three stories beyond city standard for 100% affordable housing projects.

The site’s proposed density is not in compliance with the Local Coastal Program and Land Use Plan, which authorizes only up to 10 units on the site with workforce housing overlay designation. Commissioners are tasked with determining the project is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act and approving application for a Coastal Development Permit and Architectural Review.

“I want farmworker housing, I helped put many of these policies through,” Commissioner Rick Hernandez said. “I have problems with the way … the workforce overlay is being interpreted, in context with this new state law. What this would allow you to do is put a six-story building at 555 Kelly, and you could put as many units as you want there.”

Proponents see development, which would offer four floors of housing and a ground-floor farmworker resource center run by Ayudando Latinos a Soñar, as much-needed housing for a vulnerable population. ALAS, alongside Mercy Housing, are the applicants for the project.

“The farmworkers that are going to live in the housing, we’re going to really be able to serve them directly, make sure they get resources and bring in community agencies, county programs. This is not just about ALAS. This is much bigger than ALAS,” said Dr. Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, ALAS founder and executive director.

But critics say the proposed five-story building is too large in scope for Half Moon Bay’s downtown and should be located elsewhere, voicing trepidation around its impact on nearby parking and traffic.

The project is predicted to have an “almost unnoticeable impact” on driving delays and parking demand will likely be contained within the space, traffic analyst Erin Vaca said at the meeting — although commissioners questioned the scope of the study that produced those results and if it took into account high-traffic days like farmers’ markets.

“Recognizing there are special events that are being held in this area that can make parking an issue, the demand from this site is not going to spill off the site and make that worse,” Vaca said.

A majority of senior farmworkers expected to live on site do not have vehicles, which will mitigate traffic impacts, Hernandez-Arriaga said.

However, the Planning Commission cannot require any additional parking for the development — even if it wanted to — because of the new state law, Deputy City Attorney Winter King affirmed, noting that the traffic study was only completed to address community concerns.

While approval of the CEQA exemption does require evidence the project doesn’t require significant traffic impacts, parking and congestion are no longer classified as a traffic impact.

“Parking isn’t a traffic impact. In fact, congestion isn’t a traffic impact anymore,” King said. “The only thing that would count as a traffic impact under CEQA is a substantial increase in vehicle miles traveled — are you creating a development that’s going to make people drive longer distances and create air pollution?”

Commissioner David Gorn expressed confusion around the Planning Commission’s role in approving the project due to the strict provisions of the state density bonus law.

“We’re not allowed to look at parking, we’re not allowed to look at density, we’re not allowed to look at height, we’re not allowed to look at traffic, we’re not allowed to look at environment, we’re not allowed to look at CEQA. Why do the study?” he said. “We don’t need to prove parking isn’t affected.”

The potential for traffic congestion is a small price to pay for providing affordable farmworker housing in a location that won’t create repercussions for the environmental landscape, Half Moon Bay resident Lynette Curthoys said.

“The opportunity to do infill development in our town is so important, because I care a ton about protecting agricultural and environmental resources on the coastside,” she said. “The inconveniences around the parking on Saturday mornings are minimal compared to the health and safety of our senior farmworkers.”

Architectural Advisory Committee member Chad Hooker, speaking only on behalf of himself, said he was a supporter of farmworker housing but the city should look at larger sites outside of the historic downtown. He suggested a 50-acre nursery bought by the county in January.

“This building is too large, too much density, not enough parking for this site and there are alternate sites,” he said. “I’m not trying to say go find a better place — I’m saying there are better places.”

For farmworkers like Feliz Torres, housing and the adjacent resource center — which is set to provide mental health services, skills-based classes, crisis support and health care referrals — would offer an opportunity for farmworkers to be the narrators of their own stories.

“I’ve worked in Half Moon Bay, in the field, for 44 years and I’ve seen how this town has changed. We also know the history of this town,” he said through a translator. “This resource center is important because we have a place where we can serve the history of Half Moon Bay from the perspective of the farmworker. It’s a place where we can be the protagonists and the professors.”

Hernandez made clear at the start of the meeting that the commission was “not discussing the merits of farmworker housing,” but continued to voice concerns around the larger housing policy precedent commissioners would be setting. The Planning Commission had already received a statement from YIMBY Law threatening legal action if maximum numbers of housing units aren’t built wherever possible, he said.

“The heritage downtown starts from Highway 1 and it goes to Main Street. I want to make sure whatever we do doesn’t open up the heritage downtown to unlimited development,” he said. “I just want to make sure we’re not opening up Pandora’s box here.”

Read the full article here.

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