Tag Archives: Housing

Benicia City Council approves housing element plan despite concerns

[Editor – Coverage of Council’s ‘Housing Element’ decision on January 24.  For additional background, see earlier stories on BenIndy below– R.S.]
Benicia City Council approves housing element plan despite concerns
Benicia City Hall.

The Vallejo Sun, by Ryan Geller, February 2, 2023

BENICIA – The Benicia City Council unanimously approved zoning amendments this week to facilitate new housing over the next eight years as part of a state requirement that cities in California create a long-term growth plan.

This formal adoption of the housing element on Tuesday came on the state deadline for adoption after controversy over the city’s plans. Last week, more than 80 people filled the council chambers to express concerns about historical preservation and equitable growth.

The housing element is part of the City’s General plan and it is intended to insure that the city can meet future housing needs in an equitable manner. Since 1969, the state has required cities and counties to adjust zoning rules every eight years to accommodate each jurisdiction’s share of the state’s housing goals for all income levels, known as the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA).

The needs assessment determined that Benicia should add at least 750 new housing units over the next eight years. Benicia’s zoning changes could accommodate up to 1,236 new units.

Most of the zoning changes are to the downtown area and the city’s east side. The permitted density for housing will be increased to 30 units per acre and buildings in residential zones will be allowed to cover 45% of the lot instead of 40%. The building height limit in some zones will be increased to three stories instead of the current limits of two to two-and-a-half stories.

Community comments focused on concerns related to Benicia’s historical sites and districts. Several community members brought up concerns about a portion of the Benicia City Cemetery that had been included in the list of sites for possible development. Others spoke about impacts to historic districts that could affect not only specific sites but the character of Benicia.

Rezoned sites in the Downtown Historic Conservation District.
Rezoned sites in the Downtown Historic Conservation District. Map via city of Benicia.

In preserving the historical aspects of this town, “it’s not just the buildings, it’s the setting, it’s the entire context.” said Benicia resident Linda Chandler.

Many of the commenters requested that the council reject the current housing element and instead revise the proposed project to reflect an alternative identified in an environmental review. The alternative would have significantly reduced impacts to the city’s historic resources by eliminating the rezoning of all of the locations in Benicia’s two historic districts, the downtown area and the Arsenal district.

One of the key complaints from community members about the housing element was that moderate and low income units were more heavily distributed in the east side when the intent of state’s housing law is to create an even distribution of housing units available to all income levels.

Marilyn Bardet, who has lived on the east side for 37 years, expressed environmental justice concerns about locations in the Arsenal Historic district. She noted that one of the locations, 1471 Park Road, is in a high traffic area close to the Valero refinery and the asphalt plant that may emit dangerous chemicals. “It is surrounded by active pipelines and I-780,” she said. “This is no place to put children and families, especially low-income folks.”

1451 Park Road, in the Arsenal Historic Conservation District
The large triangular site, 1471 Park Road, in the Arsenal Historic Conservation District, will be rezoned under the Benicia housing element plan. Map via city of Benicia.

According to the city staff, only certain sites qualify for low income housing and the staff evenly distributed the low income units across all the available sites. But the east side does have two large sites that meet the qualifications and can accommodate a large number of low income units.

They also noted that the downtown area offered sites that furthered local and state goals of reducing vehicle miles traveled by creating housing near transit, jobs and services.

Mayor Steve Young pleaded with the community members to support the housing element, saying the benefits of the housing development planning include creating more walkable cities, reducing homelessness and reducing commutes.

The mayor also broached more personal and localized points in his appeal to Benicia residents, “Our kids would like to live here and they can’t afford to do that because the houses are simply too expensive and there are not enough of them.”

He added that a variety of housing stock could provide more appropriate housing for seniors and improve the city’s finances. “Frankly, more people and more growth means more tax revenue and we need more tax revenue if we are going to maintain the level of community services that people have come to expect,” he said.

Councilmember Trevor Macenski said that he thought the council has gone above and beyond in their community engagement efforts for the housing element, holding 25 public meetings on the issue.

City staff did make one change based on the community concerns by removing a portion of the cemetery from the list of potential development sites. The staff said that the cemetery site was one of the only sites that could be feasibly removed without requiring extensive revisions that would not allow the City to meet the state’s Jan. 31 deadline.

According to the city attorney, failure to meet the deadline would expose the city to lawsuits from housing advocacy groups and the city would be vulnerable to state laws such as the builders remedy which allow developers to circumvent the local approval process in jurisdictions that are not in compliance with state law. The state could even go as far as to revoke the city’s right to issue permits at all.

“It is entirely feasible that if we don’t do the final adoption of the zoning map tonight, a developer… could build anywhere at any height, at any density and the city would lose all discretion,” Young said. “That’s why the Jan. 31 deadline was so important and why we are intent on meeting that deadline to preserve our ability to regulate housing development.”

See earlier on BenIndy:

Housing Update should be adopted with “Environmentally Superior Alternative”

[BenIndy Editor: note that the Environmentally Superior Alternative is NOT easy to find in Council’s January 24 packet. Staff analysis of it can be located on numbered pages 93-95 (PDF pages  98-100) in Attachment 1 – Resolution – Statement of Overriding Considerations – Certifying the EIRThe complete DRAFT EIR is not provided in the January 24 agenda. It has a more detailed description on pages 6-53 to 6-25 (PDF pages 519-521.   – R.S.]

Protecting Historic Benicia

Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007-2020

This Tuesday (Jan. 24) at 6 p.m. the Benicia City Council will consider adopting the Environmental Impact Report for the mandated update of the Housing Element of the General Plan. You may not realize what this means.

Let me explain.

In the City of Benicia the need for housing is being addressed substantively, urgently and comprehensively pursuant to state law. But it need not be an either-or-choice between protecting historic districts, places and needed housing. In fact, proposed overlay zoning on historic districts and places is deemed an environmentally cultural resource significant impact for the Housing Element.

The proposed overlay zoning is a significant impact on the historic districts listed on the National Register, the highest ranking in the United States.

The Housing Element Update Environmental Impact Report provides a remedy which is to avoid the impacts to cultural resources by adopting the Environmentally Superior Alternative.

2023-2031 Benicia Housing Element – LINK: Environmentally Superior Alternative Analysis

The Environmentally Superior Alternative avoids impacts not just to historic districts and places (city cemetery) but also reduces impacts to aesthetic resources, energy, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous material, hydrology and water quality, public services, population and housing, and transportation when compared to the proposed project (i.e. Housing Element).

There are substantial reasons to adopt the Environmentally Superior Alternative so why wouldn’t the staff and Planning Commission recommend that alternative to the council?

One reason might be because based on recommendations from the Association of Bay Area Governments to meet the State Housing Community and Development guidelines is to have a 15% “buffer” number of rezoned parcels to meet the mandated housing units of 750. It is calculated that removing all the historic districts, the city cemetery and Jefferson Ridge and Park Road projects would still provide 50% percent over the mandate.

Another reason might be that applying the zoning overlay for multifamily/mixed use on Southampton neighborhoods would be a harder local political fight than targeting the historic districts and places.

Another reason might be that by adopting the maximum number well beyond the mandates and buffer, that future development and land uses are cast now beyond the reach of future councils. Once the sites are identified in the housing element this time they are “forever” sites going forward and subject to less public review.

But reasons to adopt the Environmentally Superior Alternative go beyond avoiding significant impacts to historic districts and places and reducing environmental impacts listed including air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. It sends a signal that when the Seeno or so-called Eastern Gateway project is assessed we could count on the council adopting the environmentally superior alternative rather than a Seeno-preferred project.

Or what about a Valero Refinery project? Can we count on the council adopting an environmentally superior alternative?

If not now, when?

Benicia has experience with public participation for the needed future community planning for the proposed infill development. Indeed, the General Plan Oversight Committee in the late 1990s used this approach to find common ground between those who opposed and advocated for affordable housing. The accord reached was to include the neighborhood in the process. Dialogue is better than majority rule because it fosters solution-based conversations and in the end better planning (e.g. East 5th Street process).

More compact infill development in the Housing Element’s Environmentally Superior Alternative reduces the impacts to the climate by reducing vehicle miles traveled because the development is within the city’s core. This is consistent with Benicia’s General Plan, which proudly is based on sustainable development.

We can thoughtfully plan our community based on the Environmentally Superior Alternative — instead of sliding into the “development by right” that enables developers to potentially avoid needed environmental assessment for some areas.

Where we build and what we build is a climate issue.

— Elizabeth Patterson/Benicia Mayor (2007-2020)

Benicia Historical Society joins others in calling for ‘Environmentally Superior Alternative’

Council to pass Housing Element Update on Jan 24 – Protect Historic Benicia!

Where….  City Hall Council Chambers, 250 E L St.
When…….Tuesday, January 24, 2023, 6:00pm

In response to the State requiring designation of sites for new housing, the Benicia City Council will be voting on an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and a zoning amendment package which would impact the historic integrity of the :

    • Downtown Historic District
    • Arsenal National Register and City Historic District
    • City Cemetery National Register District

The zoning amendment would allow higher density housing and 3 story buildings up to 35 ft. tall – and on First St up to 40 ft. tall – on selected opportunity sites. These sites are located primarily in and around Downtown and the Arsenal, and include the City Cemetery.

The EIR states that environmental impacts to the Historic Districts can be eliminated by removing the Historic District opportunity sites and is referred to as the “environmentally superior alternative”.  The City would still have more than double the proposed housing required by the State.

Please attend the meeting in person, if at all possible, to show your support for this Environmentally Superior Alternative EIR, rather than the staff recommendation, and removing the City Cemetery site.  Speaking is not necessary.

For additional information, see https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/housingelement.

Protect our historic districts and places on the National Register – the highest level recognition of historic significance

By Elizabeth Patterson and Steve Goetz, January 19, 2023

Please attend the City Council public hearing on the Housing Element scheduled for 6:00 pm on January 24, in-person or via Zoom.  You don’t have to say anything, just show your support for those who do say something

  • Adopt the Environmentally Superior alternative project
  • By adopting the Environmentally Superior Alternative (ESA), the historic districts and places are removed thus no significant impact to cultural resources
  • Housing Element with this ESA still has more than 15% buffer as “insurance” for parcels that may not be developed at designated densities and affordability
  • Remove Park Rd and Jefferson Ridge as “opportunity sites” because city has already approved development
  • Reduce impacts to aesthetic resources, energy, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous material, hydrology and quarter quality, public services, population and housing, and transportation by adopting the ESA.
  • Avoid potential threats to the viability of our heavy industry while also avoiding threatening public health and safety.
  • After adoption of Environmentally Superior alternative initiate planning for community goals for East side where most of the high density and affordability parcels are identified.
  • After adoption consider planning tools to achieve density and affordability, e.g. minimum affordability requirement range between 20 and 25%; required density for designated parcels.
  • Avoid losing additional land use control in the next update of the housing element (2031) through “by right development” if city does not adopt planning measures to meet state housing requirements

The following letter is from Steve Goetz

(Click image to see the 1999 General Plan)

Next Tuesday (January 24) the City Council will consider changing the Benicia General Plan to accommodate over 250% of Benicia’s share of the region’s housing need. Specifically, the Council will consider adopting a Housing Element to the General Plan that will accommodate 1,174 units above the 750 units mandated by the state for Benicia by 2031.

Click image for DRAFT 2023-2021 Housing Element

We need housing so why would providing more housing than what the state requires be a problem?  A review of the information developed for the Housing Element shows this level of rezoning will significantly damage the character of Benicia’s two historic districts and historic cemetery disproportionately burden the East Side compared to other areas of the city, and concentrate new lower-income housing next to heavy industry.  In other words, the City is proposing an effort in gross excess of what is required or suitable for the intended purpose, meeting the definition of the word “overkill”.

(Click image to see the Housing Element Draft EIR)

The City’s own Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Housing Element says that the close proximity of the proposed housing sites to historic buildings will substantially damage the significance of these historic districts.   The EIR says we can protect these historic districts and meet Benicia’s share of the regional housing need by removing the 17 housing sites proposed in these historic districts.

The EIR concluded that the project alternative to remove proposed housing from the historic districts is “environmentally superior”, meaning it not only eliminates damage to Benicia’s historic districts, it also reduces impacts to aesthetic resources, energy, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous material, hydrology and quarter quality, public services, population and housing, and transportation when compared to the proposed project (i.e. Housing Element).  Most importantly, the EIR finds that this environmentally superior alternative would accommodate Benicia’s share of the regional housing need.

The second problem with proposing an excessive amount of housing is that over 70% of the total amount of housing proposed in the lower income categories is located in the East Side.  This proposal is clearly against the General Plan policy that requires dispersal of this housing across the city.

Finally, this Housing Element shows that this concentration of lower income housing is in the most environmentally challenged area of Benicia. There is a reason why there are some undeveloped sites in the East Side.  These sites happen to be near heavy industry. We have located heavy industry away from housing so it can contribute to our economy without being a nuisance and without endangering public health.  This Housing Element threatens the viability of our heavy industry while also threatening public health and safety.

Last week’s staff report to the Planning Commission on the Housing Element explained that these disproportionate impacts to the East Side are a result of the City Council’s direction.  In other words, the City Council is choosing to propose 2.5 times the amount of housing needed for the region to the detriment of our historic districts, the East Side, our heavy industry, and public health and safety.

One commenter at last week’s Planning Commission hearing on the Housing Element said most public comments were only looking at how the Housing Element was affecting them and not how it could benefit those who need housing and want to live in Benicia.  The comments in support of our historic districts, heavy industry, and public health were not generated by concern about how the Housing Element would affect them, but how it would affect Benicia’s future and the type of community we hand down to future generations.

We look to our City Council to address city needs in a way that balances benefits of a proposed action against the disadvantages and how it supports the city’s overall goals.  The Housing Element is not balanced, but is overkill, representing new housing any cost.  A balanced approach to meeting our state obligation for new housing is the EIR’s environmentally superior alternative, which satisfies our housing priorities while also serving other city priorities.

>> Please attend the City Council public hearing on the Housing Element scheduled for 6:00 pm on January 24, in-person or via Zoom.  You don’t have to say anything, just show your support for those who do say something.  You can also call your City Council at 707-746-4213 now and leave a message. Write to our Council members:

For safe and healthy communities…