Category Archives: Housing

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:

Housing in Benicia – Former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

[Editor: Benicia’s housing needs, California regulatory requirements and regulations, and potential locations for new housing in Benicia are now being debated among residents and at our Planning Commission and City Council.  The issues are complex and opinion is divided among friends and colleagues. See also perspective by current Benicia Mayor Steve Young. – R.S.]

The Mayor and Council can do better than this

EL PAT’S FORUM

by ELIZABETH PATTERSON
Benicia, California

July 25, 2022

The Mayor and Council can do better than this. “This” is the draft Housing Element.

Their sworn duty is to make decisions based on public health safety and welfare. They are to uphold the laws of the city including the general plan.

The draft housing element is part of the state mandated seven elements plus optional elements of the general plan. One optional element of the general plan is economic development. The highest and best use of the historic districts is to foster and support economic activities such as historic museums, parks and commercial uses. The draft housing element proposes to have multifamily housing in historic districts on the National Register – that is a big deal. The reason Jefferson Ridge (Park Road and Jefferson Street) is on this prestigious list is because it is the only presidio commissioned by President Lincoln to establish a union Army presence in California to prevent the pro slavery counties and confederates from pushing California into a slave holding state. That too is a big deal. The only one in California. The only one by President Lincoln. The only one in the West that is intact and complete. The only one.

On its own this treasure should be protected, championed, and developed for visitors to marvel at this one-of-a-kind Civil War Era enclave protecting California from becoming a slave state.

But there is more. Not only is this site of such rare qualities it is also smack dab in the vicinity (less than a thousand feet) of oil pipelines and a full port of shipping fossil fuel oil and products. These things can blow up. They also catch on fire. We just had one. A prudent Mayor and council would NOT put people – mothers, fathers, children – to live so close to such places. How will they shelter in place? How will they evacuate? How will they have less polluted air than is currently in that area? How will children not venture into these wonderfully complex and dangerous places for the excitement of risk?

And then there is the doctrine “when in a hole, stop digging”. The city can’t maintain the roads, sidewalks, trees, water lines, parks without more revenue. This council wants us to vote on another general sales tax to help pay for these things. The use of the historic districts that are far from walkable distance and little to zero services will require all that new and improved infrastructure to be maintained. But property taxes only go up 2% a year versus the cost of everything else which is at least 3% and right now at 9%. Don’t keep digging.

And we all agree that we need affordable housing – although the proposed Arsenal projects are only providing 10% of all the units– a shamefully low percentage. And the reason that housing is not affordable in most communities is the cost of land. And the cost of land is driven by investors who want the low capital gains tax at 14% to make their profits. The cost of land is disconnected from the marketplace. The only market for land is with the investors and developers. Wages have not kept pace with the inflationary value of investor-owned land. You can’t solve problems if you don’t focus on the root of the problem.

Nonetheless the state in service to the land investors and the good intention of others is mandating that California cities and counties provide for more new development. It seems regardless of the other state mandates to reduce greenhouse gases, reduce vehicle miles traveled and achieve clean air and save 20% on water use – just “build baby build”.

Can we meet the state mandate to provide opportunities for housing based on the state’s standards – Regional Housing Needs Assessment? Yes. The city staff and consultants have identified more than enough without residential in the Arsenal historic district. The Mayor and council can have their good intentions for housing AND protect the Arsenal. Will they? Tune in or show up this Tuesday the 26th at 6:00 PM at city hall. Share your thoughts and recommendations.

Attached is a comment letter for the July 26, 2022 City Council/Planning Commission joint study session on the Public Review Draft Housing Element. Please forward it to City Council members and Planning Commissioners. Continue reading Housing in Benicia – Former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

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