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Housing plan okayed
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City officials are breathing a collective sigh of relief now that Ceres finally has an updated housing element. It's three years overdue.

Barry Siebe, the planning manager with the city, said the element is on its way to the state Housing and Community Development (HCD) for certification.

The state of California requires cities to update their housing element of the general plan every five years to reflect the changes in development markets and goals. Without a certified element, cities can risk losing state funds and are at risk to lawsuits from developers.

The city began updating its housing element in 2003 but encountered delays due to a turn-over in planning staff. It has been in "technical non-compliance" with state law.

The City Council adopted the new housing element on Oct. 8, but members seemed nervous about the accuracy of the outdated numbers contained within it. Ken Craig, director of Planning and Community Development, suggested that housing element numbers are always out of date because of the lengthy process.

The housing element looks at what types of housing exist in Ceres and what mix the state would like to see occur in the future. One of the highest priorities mandated by the state is to have cities foster the development of "affordable housing."

Ceres has one of the highest rates of owner-occupied housing in the Valley: 66 percent versus 34 percent rental occupied housing stock. Home ownership in California was 56 percent in 2000, versus 67 percent nationally.

But Ceres has been lagging in development of housing for poor Californians, noted Derek DiManno of Mintier & Associates, the firm hired by the city to produce the housing element. Indeed, he said, the state is concerned that California is lagging behind other states in terms of producing affordable housing.

Of housing units produced between 2000 and 2003, Ceres developed 1,944 single-family homes and 287 multi-family residential units. The new element calls for the Ceres to develop 542 units for very-low-income families, 358 low-income units and 208 moderate-income units. From 2001 to now, the city has exceeded the state's expectations for housing for those in higher income families.

While cities aren't responsible for actually building the housing, the state HCD expects cities to provide adequate sites zoned to meet future construction needs.

"This is really a good faith effort of doing what you can to provide regulatory incentives, removing constraints and providing funding such as redevelopment housing set-aside funds," said DiManno.

He commented that inside the city limits of Ceres, "there's very little vacant, underutilized land." To satisfy the state, the city had to plan to use future annexation areas for affordable housing. HCD does not like the approach, said DiManno. While the state resists the concept, it realizes that Ceres has development constraints inside the current city limits.

Now that the update is out of the city's hands, it's back to square one for the next update, which is due on June 30, 2009. DiManno suggested that the city prepare by making higher density sites available and provide ongoing site inventory. The city should also document the barriers for affordable housing, he said.

Mayor Anthony Cannella spent time discussing the importance of changing one word from "shall" to "may" in looking at inclusionary ordinances for housing. "Inclusionary housing" is a city process whereby all development would need to provide housing for very low, low or moderate income level families.

Steve Breckenridge, a candidate for City Council, suggested that the city start a revolt against state housing mandates.