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Reluctant council oks state housing demands
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Resentful of state demands to accommodate certain types of housing, members of the Ceres City Council on Monday evening approved a Housing Element while saying the numbers really don't mean anything.

Members said they only adopted the Housing Element because it's a required part of the General Plan, which is currently being updated as a blueprint for Ceres growth. The Ceres Housing Element will be in force until 2023, said Mark Niskanen, a consultant planner with J.B. Anderson Land Use Planning of Ripon.

The city last updated its Housing Element in 2012.

Currently not much home construction is going on in Ceres because of market conditions. The Housing Element dictates how Ceres must accommodate all types of housing, particularly for low- and very-low-income residents. Although the element says Ceres needs to accommodate 2,571 units by 2023, the city has no control over whether the market calls for those units to be constructed. The element breaks down regional housing need allocation as follows:

• 311 units for extremely-low income housing families;

• 311 units for very-low income families;

• 399 units for low-income households;

• 446 units for moderate-income families;

• 1,104 units for above-moderate-income families;

With the recent West Landing annexation, Ceres has 1,272 acres of land that could develop up to 7,808 new residential units. Although Mayor Chris Vierra said he didn't think he'd see the build-out in his lifetime, the figure represents a surplus of 5,398 residential units above what Ceres is required to accommodate.

"We've got 52 years before we get through 7,800 houses," said Vierra. "I'm not too hung up on this. It's not going to happen for a long, long time."

Niskanen said the city needed to amend the West Landing Specific Plan to make the minimum density for the High Density Residential II land use from 18 to 20 units per acre so that accommodations are made for lower income families. That didn't sit well with the council. Nor did learning that the state is requiring the city to give low-income housing developments priority water and sewer service. Mayor Chris Vierra also wondered why the state is demanding that the city provide brochures for the seasonal farm labor housing programs. "To me it seems awfully singulatory in nature," commented Vierra.

Couper Condit, a member of the Ceres Planning Commission, urged the council to not approve the Housing Element.

"We, as a city, have to decide what standard of quality of life we're willing to provide," said Condit. "I live in Ceres and I want to Ceres a better place for future generations. Along with this increase in units comes the policy of smaller lot sizes. We have to ask ourselves if pushing homes closer together is really good for our town. The citizens of Ceres, they don't benefit from cramming houses together and straining public services and schools. We have to think about the impact that would have on the community."

Leonard Shepherd decried the plan, saying Ceres doesn't need to grow at all. He especially railed against the state dictating demands for housing.

Councilman Bret Durossette said the city has no choice if it wants a general plan to better control growth in the future.

"It's something we have to do," said Durossette.

Vierra said adopting the plan "doesn't mean those homes will ever come."

Councilman Ken Lane expressed frustration and said he never liked the concept of a Housing Element but was excited to be crafting a new General Plan.

"These numbers are numbers," said Lane. "I've seen them over and over. This is the third one, I think, that I've gone through. Some of the language that's put in these things is just ridiculous. It's somebody in Sacramento making deals with somebody."