When the agenda for this week’s council meeting was posted online, members of the Oakley Watchdog Group immediately fired up the Facebook message board over concerns that the city would be considering a density bonus to Corporation For Better Housing (CBH), which owns the 18-acre plot on Carol Lane where three apartment structures currently exist. An additional three buildings with 404 low-income units for seniors and families have already been approved for the site.
In 2006, the Oakley City Council zoned the property at Carol Lane as an Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) District. An AHO sets the minimum base density of 24 dwelling units per acre. However, when the number of units was first proposed in 2006, staff interpreted the density of 24 units to be the maximum, not the base, and the developer requested 22.7 units per acre.
On further review, the Department of Housing and Community Development informed the city that the 24 units is a minimum, and that the developer has the right to apply to build more units than originally approved. If the new density bonus application is OK’d, the developer could request a maximum of 540 units. CBH has applied for 509.
Concern over what this could mean for the city and its residents prompted Mayor Kevin Romick to postpone the item until a public workshop could be held.
“We’ll have an Affordable Housing 101 to take questions and provide answers regarding affordable housing in the state of California and how it is dealt with and how the state controls most of what happens in affordable housing,” Romick informed the public during Tuesday’s council meeting.
The approval of the application is a matter of municipal housekeeping to keep the city in compliance with state law, but the council does have the right to say no. However, that could result in a lawsuit which the developer would likely win, City Manager Bryan Montgomery said at an impromptu community meeting on Monday.
Residents who attended Monday’s meeting acknowledged that since the city has already approved the construction of three other apartment buildings, they can do nothing to stop it. But they expressed deep concern about how the influx of new residents would impact schools and community safety. Residents whose homes border the apartment complex are particularly concerned about how to keep their residences from being vandalized by tenants who break through their wooden fences to create a shortcut to get across town.
“I don’t know what to do,” Michaela Stafford said. “They tear down our fence and stomp through our yards. We fix the fence and they just do it again. I don’t feel safe letting my children play in our front yard because you never know who is going to come barreling through. ... Something needs to be done. I should feel safe in my own neighborhood.”
Similar concerns were shared on the Oakley Watchdog Facebook forum. Some fear that more low-income housing will bring more troublemakers to the area, resulting in an increase in crime. But Valerie Castaldi asked her fellow Oakley residents to keep in mind the law-abiding citizens who qualify for low-income housing and need a roof over their heads.
“Did you know there a lot of people losing their houses?” asked Castaldi. “Some of us have lost our spouse – then our house. Our last resort is probably this housing. Who are you to tell me (that) me and my children don’t deserve this?”
The council has no legal basis for deciding who moves into the apartments at Carol Lane. Oakley is subject to the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, which requires cities to plan for low-income housing based on the size of the city’s population. In Oakley’s case, the city must allow for approximately 900 units of low-income housing to stay in compliance with state law.
Montgomery said he understands the public’s concern regarding the issue, but there isn’t much that can be done from a legal standpoint: “The city staff is not anxious; it is not excited; it is not happy about this application. This isn’t something city staff supports, but it is an application that we have to respond to. And there are certain rules and regulations mandated by the state that require us to respond. … It’s a very difficult situation we find ourselves in.”