Big Bear Lake, CA, March 30, 2011, 2:30pm – During Mondays combined City of Big Bear Lake City Council and Planning Commission meeting, the subject of affordable housing was again discussed with three important policy decisions concluded. The meeting, which lasted nearly 5 hours, filled Hofert Hall to capacity with local citizens who, for the most part, oppose state mandated housing needs assessments and specifically the low-to-moderate income project proposed on Sandalwood in Big Bear Lake. The opposition, calling themselves the Sandalwood Group, proposed 8 bullet points that they wanted to see in the Big Bear Lake affordable housing plan. Among the requests were for smaller complexes and mixed-use housing and commercial projects. At the heart of the debate was the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA, numbers in which Sacramento mandates to local governments that they build or make room for low and moderate income housing within their borders. After a great deal of debate, Big Bear Lake City Council voted that a legal battle over the existing RHNA numbers was not prudent and, thus, affirming that the city would comply. But how the city would comply sparked further and, at times, heated debate. The second policy decision which passed on a 3 to 2 vote enabled the city to drop or delay the use of new construction to fulfill the state RHNA numbers and use instead, an existing structure rehabilitation policy combined with an up-zoning policy applied to existing R3, Multi-Family properties in Big Bear Lake. This action, in and of itself, has put all proposed “new construction” of low to moderate housing on indefinite hold. Thus this decision has stopped any more progression of the EAH housing development at the Sandalwood site but does not halt finishing the housing project underway at the Knickerbocker site. The final policy decision made by the City Council was to delay any new low-income housing project for a minimum of 16 months or longer in order to complete the construction of the housing project on Knickerbocker. This would give everyone time to access future housing needs impacted by this project. It was also pointed out that the current 2010 census and the previous 2000 census reflected a decrease in Big Bear Lake’s population, which should trigger a declining need for housing according to the Southern California Association of Governments. Most city council members agree that the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment is out of step with the actual housing needs of a resort town such as Big Bear and have given direction that the next phase of state RHNA discussions will need better input from cities and local regions.
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