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Council angry over state housing mandates

City Council members hinted on Monday that they are willing to accept the state's dictates to allow controversial housing uses in residential zones but may set their own standards for appearance.

Councilmembers are unhappy that the state is taking away local control of housing policy -- especially with regard to drug and alcohol treatment facilities in residential areas.

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.

Without the action, Ceres will not be able to have a state certified Housing Element at a time when one is needed as the city moves forward with an update of the Ceres General Plan.

"We cannot get a certified General Plan without a consistent Housing Element," said City Manager Toby Wells.

Community Development Director Tom Westbrook has also been warning 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.

Couper Condit, who voted against the state's mandates on the Planning Commission, rose and spoke about the General Plan update.

"If we bend over to the state more than we have on low-income and bad housing, that's what we're going to be," said Condit. "I told you this at our General Plan meeting we have to decide what kind of city we're going to be. If we're going to be the average Central Valley city that just does what the state wants and sprawls out, we might as well be Modesto. We have to decide to be Ceres and to stand up and tell the state we're not going to take it anymore ... let's fight the state and see what they do."

He charged that the state accomplished very little of the General Plan goals established in 1997.

Ceres resident Len Shepherd suggested that the council "can't continue letting the state tell us how to run our city."

Councilman Ken Lane suggested that if the city doesn't adopt the state standards "the state's going to tell you what to do anyway."

"The idea of telling the state to ‘stick it' really isn't an option, because they have all the power," Wells told the council. "In essence they can say ‘you don't exist as a city anymore.'"

When it came to a vote only Councilmember Linda Ryno voted to reject including the state mandates.

Mayor Chris Vierra said he remains "staunchly opposed" to the state's requirements but desires the General Plan as "the most critical document" for Ceres' future. He suggested requiring residential care facilities to "meet the upmost design guidelines" so they are not eyesores.

Wells said the same standards would have to apply to all residential uses, however.

"I don't think that's a problem," shot back Mayor Vierra.

"So if someone moves into a new house," clarified Wells, "regardless of any situation, the same standards would apply."

Vierra said only if it had more than seven people, to which Wells said "we have a lot of those. We have one of the higher household occupancy."

City Attorney Tom Hallinan said the city will likely be bound by what degree those regulations can be adopted.