Signal Hill grappling with long-term water and additional-housing plans

City Council will evaluate urban water-management plan and hiring a consultant to help increase housing.


Courtesy Meta Housing Corp.

Image of Zinnia housing development at 1500 E. Hill St., Signal Hill, completed in 2017 in compliance with State-required new housing. Signal Hill will need 516 additional dwelling units in the next 10 years to comply with the State’s next cycle of housing requirements.

At its upcoming meeting Dec. 10, the Signal Hill City Council will consider approving a long-term water-management plan and authorizing a request-for-proposals for a consultant to help develop State-required additional housing.

Water plan
According to a Dec. 10 Public Works Department staff report, because Signal Hill is now delivering water to over 3,000 retail customers, the State requires it to submit an urban water-management plan (UWMP) detailing its viability as a long-term supplier of water, as per the 1983 California Urban Water Management Plan Act.
City-hired consultants AKM Consulting Engineers prepared Signal Hill’s UWMP covering the State’s current 2015-2020 period, the staff report states. The City will need to submit another report by July 1, 2021 covering the State’s next 20-year planning cycle.

Courtesy City of SH
Map showing Signal Hill’s water-pressure zones, from the City’s 2015-2020 Urban Water Management Plan, which the Signal Hill City Council will consider approving at its Dec. 10 meeting

AKM’s comprehensive 69-page UWMP report to be considered by the council Tuesday evaluates the city’s water-delivery systems, water uses, supply sources, efficiencies, demand-management and contingency plans for water shortages, as per State guidelines.

The City projects a stable annual supply of water over the next 20 years from 2,300 acre-feet of importable water from the Municipal Water District (MWD) and 2,022 acre-feet from its groundwater aquifer, according to the report.

Though the City can purchase water from the MWD, the report shows that it has only imported an average of 18% of its needed supply over the past 18 years, with 82% coming from its groundwater wells.

“The Central Groundwater Basin is considered a very reliable source of water, even during dry years,” the report states. “This is due to the strict limits on groundwater extractions, multiple projects that replenish the basin, adequate funding of the replenishment activities from revenue generated by the replenishment assessment placed on extractions and sufficient storage within the basin.”

The available supply of water exceeds demand through 2040, the report shows, even with a projected demand growth of about 3% every five years and contingencies for dry years.

The UWMP also includes water-use targets in order to qualify for state grants and loans, as per the Water Conservation Act of 2009 passed with Senate Bill X7-7.
That Act requires water suppliers such as Signal Hill to increase efficiencies in water usage and achieve a 10% reduction in per-capita water use by 2015 and 20% reduction by 2020, relative to 2000-2009 averages, according to the staff report. In 2015, the city consumed 142 gallons of water per person per day, exceeding its target of 177 gallons.

“Provided customers continue with current water-usage patterns, the city is on track to meet or exceed its 2020 water-use target in the future,” the staff report states.

The UWMP also notes that in the event of a catastrophic water-supply disruption, the City has an emergency plan to provide residents with potable water at parks and retail outlets.

The council will consider on Tuesday whether to adopt the UWMP and authorize Public Works Director Kelli Tunnicliff to submit it to the State Department of Water Resources.

The City is also planning to increase its water rates to ensure that its water system continues to meet demand in the long term, according to the staff report. The council will conduct a Proposition 218-protest hearing on Jan. 14, 2020 to consider community input on the proposed rate increases.

New housing
The council will also decide on Tuesday whether to authorize a request-for-proposals (RFP) for a consultant to help Signal Hill prepare for the State’s next round of required additional housing.

According to Community Development Director Colleen Doan’s report for the council, the City applied on Nov. 20 to the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for a $160,000 planning grant from a Senate Bill 2 (SB2)-Planning Grants Program (PGP).

“HCD has stated that all cities submitting an SB2 application by the deadline will be eligible for funding,” Doan notes.

The City has earmarked those funds to cover consulting services to help identify potential housing sites, adopt zoning ordinances and accelerate housing production to meet the State’s 6th Cycle Housing Element Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation, Doan states. The City must submit a plan to the State by Oct. 15, 2021 for the next cycle that runs from June 30, 2021 to Oct. 15, 2029.

The hired consultant would not only determine viable sites but also analyze oil-well, soil and methane conditions at those sites, determine zoning requirements, draft an accessory-dwelling unit ordinance and conduct community outreach, among other tasks, Doan says.

Issuing the RFP in advance will allow the City to select a consultant immediately upon receiving the funding, Doan adds.

“It is anticipated that there will be competition for consultants since all 191 cities within the Southern California Association of Governments region will also be seeking assistance to complete this type of work,” she states.

The City had adopted its 5th Cycle Housing Element RHNA in 2014 for the eight-year period ending Oct. 1, 2020, Doan said in her Nov. 12 report, when the council first approved applying for the PGP funds.

That previous RHNA allocation had required a total of 169 new housing units across four different income levels. The City has built 120 of them, needing to complete 8 units in the “moderate” income level and 41 units in the “above-moderate” income category by next year, Doan said at the Nov. 12 meeting.

“The City has met 100% of its required RHNA allocation for very-low- and low-income housing units,” Doan said. “The Zinnia workforce housing is the most recent housing project developed under this cycle.”

Regionally, the State is requiring 1.3 million additional housing units in its new cycle, of which Signal Hill’s portion is 516 units across all income categories, Doan noted at that meeting.

“This RHNA allocation is more than three times the previous allocation of 169 units,” she said.

The City had made zoning amendments to certain sites to allow greater housing density, with reduced development standards and a streamlined environmental-testing process to allow development of special-needs and affordable housing, Doan had reported on Nov. 12.

“Due to the fact that Signal Hill is an active oil field, identification of potential suitable sites will require analysis of any abandoned wells,” Doan stated.
The consultant would also help develop an accessory-dwelling unit (ADU) ordinance, which the city does not currently have, Doan said. An ADU ordinance would have to consider Signal Hill’s view policy in limiting building heights and requiring setbacks.

The consultant would additionally help update the city’s Density Bonus Ordinance (DBO).

“The updated DBO will be an essential tool to enable the City to meet both the total RHNA allocated to Signal Hill and the lower-income portion of the RHNA,” Doan stated. “The City’s quantified objective during the next eight years is two density-bonus projects (of up to 80 units total) over the course of the 6th RHNA Cycle.”

The upcoming Signal Hill City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 7pm in the council chamber at 2175 Cherry Ave.