Wheatland was highlighted in the governor’s recent State of the State address, but not in the manner city officials might have hoped for.

“We received notification about 90 minutes before the State of State address about Wheatland being called out in regards to the city’s housing element that hasn’t been certified,” said Jim Goodwin, city manager of Wheatland. “We were surprised on multiple levels.

“We are a community of 3,500 people in rural California. It’s not like we are going to solve the state’s affordable housing problem.”

During his speech, Gov. Gavin Newsom made it a point to call out the 47 California cities currently not in compliance with state law regarding affordable housing. The Housing Element Law requires that all local governments adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community. Cities and counties can meet the requirement by adopting housing plans as part of their general plans, which is also required by law.

“Reasons jurisdictions are not in compliance are varied depending on the circumstances of the jurisdiction,” said Alicia Murillo, a spokesperson for the California Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). “Some have not actually created their plan, some plans are deficient in terms of identifying sites with development potential, some do not have adequate action plans, and some have not met various other components of the law.”

Newsom’s administration filed a lawsuit against Huntington Beach in January for failing to comply with the law, and other large jurisdictions have been put on notice. Goodwin doesn’t think the state will go that route with Wheatland.

“We don’t anticipate being the target for legal action,” he said. “We anticipate constructive dialogue to help move toward certification.”

City struggles

Tim Raney, Community Development director for the city, said Wheatland has been working with the state to be approved for about two years, but the city is missing a minor component, which is essentially having land ready today for development and infrastructure.

The state has given the city a number on what it would like to see built, which is 384 units of affordable housing. With the state’s equation of having about 20 units per acre, the total would require Wheatland to zone and dedicate about 17 acres of land to affordable housing.

“We have to amend the zoning code and general plan to allow for development of up to 20 units per acre, so it’s just a density concept,” Raney said. “…The problem is, there’s just a complete market disconnect between the policy requirements and the reality of building housing – having acreage zoned for property where there is no demand. The key thing is, we don’t object to the zoning, but we don’t have the acreage served by infrastructure that we can zone. As the city grows, we will meet those requirements, no doubt, but it’s just a timing issue.”

Goodwin said the city has tentative maps that approve up to 1,000 units that could help meet the requirement, but the city’s existing infrastructure – primarily its water and sewage capacity – cannot account for that size of project quite yet. There are grants available to help a jurisdiction update its infrastructure, but without a housing-element certification the city cannot apply, so officials feel they are in a bit of a “catch-22” with the state.

In 2014, the city also annexed 4,500 acres to the east, which more than doubled Wheatland’s geographic footprint and could provide an opportunity for high-density zoning. However, Goodwin said it is in a planned development with preliminary zoning, so until final zoning can be approved for the property – as far as certification goes – it doesn’t count.

“We are really limited by the pace at which the market will invest in the community. We could have a certified housing element right now, but it wouldn’t make a single difference if we built a house. So, that’s what we hope the state can understand,” Goodwin said.

Moving forward

Goodwin said city officials plan on meeting with the state department on Monday to talk about how to move forward.

“(DHCD) is committed to working with all local governments to attain compliance,” Murillo said. “We provide technical assistance, models, samples, and one-on-one meetings. Reasons are varied on what has held up a jurisdiction in getting compliance. It might be a matter of resources, political will, community resistance, or other obstacles. The governor’s proposal to provide $250 million for planning purposes seeks to provide resources necessary for jurisdictions to come into compliance with state law, among other planning goals.”

Raney said the state has reached out to the city and stated they understand some of the constraints Wheatland officials face. He hopes the state will take those into consideration and have some flexibility with its regulations.

“We appreciate the fact that the governor is interested in affordable housing,” Goodwin said. “We do object to the characterization that this community is not trying. It’s a complete misunderstanding of the city’s current situation and intent.”

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