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City gives in to states housing demands
State tells cities that transitional houses, rest homes are permitted in neighborhoods
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Ceres has seen its conflicts of recovery houses in R-1 zones, as evidenced by a neighbors protest of liquor bottles placed in view of a sober living house at Fifth and North streets. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

Ceres City Council members voiced their opposition against the state taking away local control of housing policy - especially with regard to drug and alcohol treatment facilities in residential areas - but went along with the mandates on Monday evening. Not before vowing to speak to state legislators about changing the way the state dictates to Ceres and other cities and counties, however.

The vote was an about-face change from the council's "tell-the-state-to-stick-it" attitude.

The council was asked by Community Development Director Tom Westbrook to adopt definitions for the Housing Element, which is a required as one of seven elements of any General Plan. The city has recently hired started the process of updating the General Plan, which saw its last update in 1997.

Specifically cities and counties are being told by the state to:

• Allow residential care facilities, such as nursing homes, as a principal use in residential zones;

• Allow farm worker housing as a principal use in the R-4, or Medium-High Density Multiple Family Residential zone;

• Allow transitional and supportive housing, including halfway houses, as a principal use in all residential zones.

Westbrook warned the council that failure to go along with a certified Housing Element means Ceres could be denied state monies for housing programs, such as BEGIN, or Building Equity in Neighborhoods. The program funneled $750,000 to help first-time homebuyers in a Richard Way subdivision in 2008. Currently $689,000 is allocated to Ceres.

He said 184 cities have adopted the state's mandates with another 230 in the process.

"This is making our municipal code consistent with state law as it relates to different housing components," said Westbrook.

The state has also offered an incentive to roll the state mandates into the Housing Element by requiring element updated every eight years rather than four years.

The council said it would defy the state in the matter during a July meeting. Three members saw a change of heart.

Vice Mayor Bret Durossette favored the changes despite not liking what the state is dictating.

"We're going to have our General Plan update but we're going to have a Housing Element with it and if we don't," said Durossette, "we can't have a General Plan update and we'll still stand at the 1997 range, which I don't think is going to be good for the city of Ceres."

Councilman Mike Kline said he doesn't see anyone proposing transitional facilities in Ceres but he also sees the need for updating the elements of the General Plan, citing how decades ago lack of planning lend itself to duplexes on busy Whitmore Avenue.

"Even though I don't like it, I think it's something I'm going to have to support," said Kline.

Councilwoman Linda Ryno stuck to her guns in her opposition.

"Just as I stated in July ... I am not willing to adopt a Housing Element and allow the state to tell us what we're going to do in our neighborhoods," said Ryno. "I don't want to live in a neighborhood and (have) potentially some investor from out of the area purchase homes, those homes could be turned into transitional housing, they could be turned into residential care and that will greatly affect the residential character in my neighborhood."

Councilman Ken Lane said the city has no choice and suggested taking the matter up with state Senator Anthony Cannella and state Assemblyman Adam Gray to push for local control "rather than the state again shoving it down our throat."

Lane went on to support the zoning ordinance text changes in the interests of the General Plan.

"I have to support this because that document is needed so badly in this city," said Lane.

Ryno, however, voted against the proposed changes as outlined in the introduction and first reading of the ordinance.

Mayor Chris Vierra was absent from Monday's meeting.