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The SH commission discusses homeless population count, emergency shelters and affordable housing at meeting

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Anita W. Harris | Signal Tribune
The Signal Hill Planning Commission met with city staff Dec. 19 to discuss Mother’s Market design changes, the homeless population and affordable housing.

Mother’s Market
At its Dec. 19 meeting, the Signal Hill Planning Commission received and filed design changes to the new Mother’s Market and Kitchen at 2475 Cherry Ave., the former site of a Fresh & Easy market.

Property owner Signal Hill Petroleum had requested three changes to the original approved plans, one that shrinks outdoor dining and two that alter outdoor artwork.

The size of the outdoor eating area had to be reduced to 30 seats instead of the original 60 because an additional restroom required by regulations could not be installed.

However, the original trellis design covering outdoor seating will remain at 1,011 square feet, so the overall look of the area will be the same.

In addition, a historic black-and-white photo of Signal Hill’s oil fields adorning an outer wall will be changed to a different but similar one with better resolution.

Finally, a colored window graphic on the south end of the market will be changed to a Southern California-countryside scene similar to the original but with brighter colors for better visibility and to allow more light into the store.

Senior Planner Colleen Doan said the store is expected to open by mid to late January, about a month later than the original December timetable.

Courtesy Urban Arena
Design schematic of a Mother’s Market wall showing a new window design (below) approved at the Dec. 19 Signal Hill Planning Commission meeting that is brighter than the original design (above).

Emergency shelters
The commission also hosted a public hearing on correcting an emergency-shelters ordinance that had been adopted by the city council in 2014.

A clerical error in Title 20, Section 20.20.020 of the municipal code had indicated that emergency shelters are allowed in the commercial residential (CR) zone rather than the commercial general (CG) zone, where it had been approved.

The commission voted to recommend that the City Council approve a zoning ordinance amendment correcting that error.

Doan explained that in 2008, Calif. Senate Bill 2 had encouraged local planning for emergency shelters and the City had updated its 2013-2021 General Plan housing element accordingly.

“The emergency shelters ordinance strategy identified the CG zone where emergency shelters with 16 beds or fewer would be allowed by right,” she said.

Doan further explained that, although the State had agreed that the City only needed to offer emergency shelter for the 16 homeless individuals identified in Signal Hill at that time, it allowed the City to require a conditional-use permit for any additional beds necessary.

Homeless counting
On a related topic, the commission discussed an upcoming homeless population count for Signal Hill scheduled on Jan. 24, from 7:30pm to 10pm.

The annual count is sponsored by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), which performs the count for all of L.A. County over the course of three days.

Assistant Planner Ryan Agbayani informed the commission that 14 volunteers are scheduled to take part in the Signal Hill count but requested that the commissioners serve as backup volunteers if needed.

Scott Charney, community development director, explained that volunteers are trained in council chambers at City Hall right before the count.

He described the count as a “windshield survey” with volunteers accompanying plain-clothed police officers, though LAHSA does different types of counts in different areas.

“Ours is the most cursory type [of count],” he said. “This is really more of a public relations effort to get the community more involved with observing.”

Charney described some frustration with LAHSA’s historic control over the system of providing volunteers and training and bypassing the knowledge of local authorities on the homeless population.

“We’re able to accomplish a lot more with an officer driving than in other areas where they rely on volunteers,” he said. “Our officers know intuitively how to go up and down every street.”

But Charney reinforced the value of this type of count, especially since it allowed the City to demonstrate a need for only 16 beds for the emergency shelters ordinance rather than 76 as the State had suggested.

“By participating in these events, we were able to document that that wasn’t the homeless population here,” he said.

Affordable housing
In another item tangentially related to homelessness, Charney presented the commission with the first in a series of discussions related to 15 State bills approved in Sept. 2017 to address the affordable-housing crisis.

In November, Charney and Planning Commissioner Christopher Wilson attended the Eighth Annual Southern California Economic Summit, hosted by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), on the theme of “The Cost of Not Housing,” which focused on the economic challenges posed by population growth and the shortage of affordable housing.

Charney shared with the commission statistics, charts and a video called The Bay Area: A Cautionary Tale from that meeting to give perspective on this problem.

“The data simply reflects what we, frankly, already know— that the price of housing is increasing faster than local wages,” he said. “The consequences of continued economic and population growth, without a corresponding increase in housing production, will put pressure not only on the pricing of housing but also results in overcrowding.”

Charney explained that for the 2013-2021 General Plan period, SCAG had set the City’s “fair share” regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) at 169 new units to meet population growth, of which 71 units should be affordable to low-income groups.

“We track [!] the actual issuance of building permits stratified by income group,” Charney said. “2017 marks a watershed year for us in this planning period because [!] we have issued permits for 169 units. That was our allocation.”

Charney noted that the City could meet its affordable-housing target of 71 units only because of a new development at Gundry Avenue and Hill Street that had been heavily subsidized by the former Signal Hill Redevelopment Agency.

“So that’s not a model we’re going to be able to replicate in the next planning period,” he warned.
Charney further explained that while there is vacant land available in the City, it is not easy to develop for housing.

“We spent an inordinate amount of time talking [to SCAG] about constraints of development— earthquake faults, abandoned oil wells, active oil wells— which are constraints that other communities don’t have,” he said. “So we always argue that yes, we will take an allocation, but [!] our time horizon for buildup is not immediate. And we’ve been successful historically getting the number reduced.”

However, Charney noted that for the next planning period, the State might not be as tolerant of local government procedures if they obstruct the State’s development goals, which might also generate local resistance.

“As we [!] look at approving projects with higher density, we are going to get the pushback about traffic, about parking!” he said. “In the end, I don’t disagree with Sacramento that production is the challenge. Sometimes people don’t want to hear [that].”

The next meeting of the Signal Hill Planning Commission will take place Tuesday, Jan. 16, at 7pm in the council chambers at 2175 Cherry Ave.

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The SH commission discusses homeless population count, emergency shelters and affordable housing at meeting