After months of work by its staff to come up with a state-mandated regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) methodology that would pass muster with the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, the board of the Associated Monterey Bay Area Governments adopted a methodology on Jan. 12. It’s one the board believes can withstand scrutiny from state housing officials.
RHNA cycles, as they are called, come up every eight years. In the process, regional agencies like AMBAG map out housing allocations for every jurisdiction. These numbers of new housing units per city represent a mandate for each jurisdiction to zone properties to meet those housing goals.
And for cities on the Monterey Peninsula, zoning for the proposed allocated units will represent a daunting challenge. In the draft methodology adopted by AMBAG, the city of Monterey, for example, will have to zone for 3,654 units in next eight-year cycle, Pacific Grove will have 1,125 and Carmel will have 349 while Seaside, the most populous city on the county’s coast, will only have to zone for 616 units. (Two of the no votes on the AMBAG board came from Monterey councilmember Ed Smith and Carmel councilmember Karen Ferlito.)
The wide split is due in large part to Assembly Bill 686, passed in 2018 to promote fairness and address systemic racism and segregation in housing issues. That gave birth to a new acronym, AFFH – Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing – that state officials prioritized so that local jurisdictions could meet the objectives of AB 686, which essentially seeks to push more housing into affluent areas.
AMBAG staff met with state Housing and Community Development staff on Jan. 4 to go over the plans they had discussed with the AMBAG board, and were essentially told that none of them would be approved by HCD because they didn’t put enough emphasis on fair housing. The option the board ultimately approved, in a 19-5 vote, is one that AMBAG staff do believe will be approved by HCD.
A handful of board members expressed frustration over the aggressive housing numbers, but one point of contention was that this was essentially an unfunded mandate, and that while one arm of state government won’t let the Peninsula put in new water meters, another arm is demanding it zone for new housing with the threat of financial penalties.
“This could potentially turn into a punitive result, and all of the cities on the Peninsula are going to have an impossible time meeting any of these numbers,” Smith said. He called his no vote a “protest vote.” Ferlito said that while Carmel generates hospitality jobs because of tourism, those jobs could be threatened if the city zones for the housing the state wants.
“Yes, we probably could increase from single-story to two-story or three-story,” Ferlito said, “but in doing that, would we be actually damaging the village [of Carmel] to the point where we would no longer be able to generate those jobs?”