Monday, March 03, 2014

Public Input on County Housing Needs Essential

Written by  Suzelle
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by Suzelle & Bonnie Blackberry
Bonnie Blackberry interviewed Michael Richardson, Senior Planner of the Humboldt County Planning Department, on Wednesday, Aug. 7, on the Civil Liberties Hour on KMUD Redwood Community Radio.  The subject was the upcoming update of the Humboldt County Housing Element, updated every 5 years.  It goes to the State to be reviewed 90 days previous to its scheduled date of completion on July 1, 2014, so planners expect it to be before the County Board of Supervisors in April, Richardson said.
Blackberry read from the text of the Housing Element Draft:  "This Element identifies existing and projected housing needs and establishes goals, policies and standards, and implementation measures for the preservation, improvement, and development of Housing.  It meets detailed requirements of State Housing Element Law, including requirements for a residential land inventory sufficient to meet the County share of the State prescribed regional housing needs."  Richardson commented, "That's kind of technical language for saying that we're trying to figure out what our housing needs are here, locally, and go to the Board of Supervisors to implement programs to address those needs.  Ultimately, that's what it all boils down to."
Three public workshop are planned, two in Eureka and one in Redway.  Richardson said they are "trying to do two things: 1) to present information about what the current state of affairs is in the housing industry and the housing market, in terms of what they understand the housing needs are, and 2) to have a brainstorming session to learn what the public thinks are the important issues to be carried forward in this Housing Element and addressed by it."
Blackberry said that a big issue in the County is un-permitted homes that apparently are being counted in the housing stock, and that the Housing Element talks about preserving existing homes.  She read an excerpt from the Housing Element section, “Regulatory constraints resulted in significant amounts of civil disobedience of building, planning, and sanitation regulations," and "The County continually tries to address the issues."  It mentions the "creation of The Code Enforcement Task Force," and notes that the Task Force "recently made recommendations to the Board of Supervisors."  Blackberry comments that those recommendations "blew by."  The Task Force had recommended that a committee be created to look into how to deal with un-permitted homes and the significant amounts of civil disobedience.  [That never happened.]
Richardson asked, "What can the County do that would help the situation?  I know for a lot of people, for instance, the sewage disposal systems requirement are a burden, and it's been kicked around for a long time, 'Well, let's approve these alternative systems, like composting toilets, for instance.  Let's allow those so that somebody doesn't have to demonstrate that their site is suitable for a standard disposal system.'  And in some ways we're constrained by State Law that limits the allowances we can make along those lines, but maybe there's some recent updates.  For instance, there's an update to the plumbing code to allow for grey-water systems, and, at a minimum, that should be incorporated into our building code as an allowance, and our plumbing code.  What else can we do?  The Health Department has said over and over to me that they are never going to permit a composting toilet without a landowner showing that they've got, somewhere on that same property, the ability to construct a standard system.  And the reason for that is because composting systems have such heavy maintenance requirements and not all property owners want to deal with that."
Blackberry countered with, "And not all property owners want to deal with designing a septic system they have no intentions to use.  And things have changed.  Now they have electric composting toilets that are less labor intensive.  These are the kinds of things that are needed to be legitimized in order to preserve the existing housing stock, which is a really big deal."  And she encouraged people to come and talk about these issues.  She pointed out that non-compliance was throughout all socio-economic sectors, and not just limited to people in the hills.
Richardson agreed.  He said, "There are constraints to what we can do, but then things are changing too.  I'm sure I don't know what the latest allowances are that the Regional Board allows for in terms of sewage disposal at the current time."  He plans to get one of the Health Officers on board to update that information, he said.
The penalty-waiver idea that is now called the Safe Homes Program by Supervisors was mentioned, and Richardson said he would be incorporating it into the new Housing Element.  Owner Builder Codes were referred to.  The last survey, thirty years ago showed 54% of homes in Humboldt County were owner built, as compared to a national average of 20%, Blackberry pointed out.
At the end of the program, Dan Taranto called in.  He read the following excerpts from a 1979 Board Resolution: "SUPPORTING LOCAL FLEXIBILITY IN BUILDING REGULATIONS TO ENCOURAGE OWNER-BUILDER HOUSING.  WHEREAS, the encouragement of owner-built housing is one important means of achieving this County's adopted  policy of providing variety in housing and affordability of housing; and WHEREAS, appropriate changes in regulations, which will more clearly meet the objective of encouraging the  owner-builder option, should be developed as an integral part of the revision to the Housing Element of Humboldt County; and NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Supervisors of the County of Humboldt as follows: Regulatory changes that cumulatively enhance the ability of Humboldt County's citizens to build and repair their homes for their own use in a manner suited to their needs and desires shall be developed in the process of revising the Housing Element of the County of Humboldt.”
Taranto continued, "That’s where I got involved years ago, and we did our best to put in a bunch of implementation programs.  And we processed them through various agencies in the county, but unfortunately they never got fully implemented.  That put a big snafu on the effort to try to open the doors to people with alternative ideas to get legitimate permits, and they were discouraged by virtually all of the different agencies at various levels.  And I think this is where much of the civil disobedience problem was incited, by the failure of the county to fully implement the programs that were developed pursuant to that Board resolution back in the early 80’s.  I think it’s time that we revisit that whole territory along lines you’ve been acknowledging to see if we can fix up some of these hang ups that have prevented people from getting legitimate permits. . ."
Richardson responded, “I feel like, in fact, we have all the license we need to make that happen, because the existing Housing Element includes that as an implementation measure.  I think that’s exactly what they were envisioning with this program, that says we will update the Alternative Owner Builder program.”
Senior Planner Michael Richardson can be reached at 707 268-3723.  Or go to the GPU home page - planupdate.org and say: "submit a public comment."  He's the one who reads all of those, he said.   The Redway workshop is scheduled to be at Redway School on Wednesday August 28, 6-8 PM.
 Download the whole radio program from the KMUD archive (right-click and "Save link as" or "Download linked file as", depending on which browser you use).
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