Cypress Housing Element workshop answers some questions but raises others

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Adding approximately 4,000 units to Cypress is no easy task.

By George Pardon (co-founder, Citizens for the Responsible Development of Cypress)

On March 29, the Cypress City Council held a second workshop regarding the State mandate to plan for 3,936 housing units over the next eight years. The workshop lasted a little over 4 hours with the first 2 hours focused on outlining the process with a significant amount of information provided over the remaining 2 hours. Ninety-nine people connected to the Webinar and others listened via telephone. Twenty-six community members spoke during the meeting and raised many concerns. It was very clear that the members of the City Council have the same concerns voiced by the community while recognizing that this is a State mandate that must be complied with. The workshop can be viewed on Cypress’ website. While the workshop is long, it is very important that residents and businesses understand what is underway because it is significant.

The workshop answered many questions related to the mandate as well as describing the parameters used to formulate a plan but, at the same time, many questions remained unanswered. One concern was raised by a member of an affordable housing commission in Orange County. They cited a concern that Cypress does not have a good track record in achieving its previous affordable housing goals. The speaker raised concerns that the city should have an inclusionary policy and should consider city owned property for affordable housing. An inclusionary policy would require certain properties to have different levels of affordable housing in those housing developments. While city staff made it clear that high density sites are more likely to provide for a developer being able to include affordable housing, unless it is mandated, developers will provide enough affordable units to allow them to take advantage of smaller setbacks and parking requirements but not move the city significantly toward its affordable housing target. The high density developments that have been constructed in recent years along Lincoln are a good example.

Speakers made comments about using city owned properties for affordable housing. Staff responded that it would require a vote of the residents due to Measure D to allow for city property to be used for residential. Measure D does require a vote of the residents to change the zoning of Public and Semi-Public property which includes city property, schools, and Forest Lawn. What was not mentioned is that properties restricted by Measure D do allow for affordable senior housing without a vote of the residents.

In fact, the Cypress School District is under contract with a developer to design a senior housing development for the corner of Orange and Moody with over half of the units (51) in the affordable category. The density of this project is only about 16 units per acre, not 30 or 40 although it is recognized that the school district is receiving less per acre for their property than if it was zoned market rate housing or higher density. The current Housing Element for Cypress covering 2014-2021 states: “Among renters, the elderly were most impacted by severe overpayment, with 27% of the City’s total 639 elderly renters spending more than half their income on rent.”

While this report was generated in 2013, I doubt that the stats for our seniors have improved. Based on that information, 27% of 639 would indicate that 172 affordable units were needed at that time yet only 51 are now being proposed on school district property. That leaves 121 units still needed to satisfy the information in the last Housing Element. Any city property under Measure D could be developed to meet that need without a vote of the residents.

The 13 acre site that the city recently sold to Shea Properties on Katella meets all the criteria for the ideal location for affordable housing yet the project proposes a 251 luxury apartment complex. The city was able to permit luxury apartments without a vote of the residents because those 13 acres are not subject to Measure D restrictions due to a vote of the residents in the 1990s. The residents at that time did not zone housing for the 13 acres, they approved commercial/retail.

There was no requirement for another vote of the residents in the ballot measure so the City Council was able to rezone the 13 acres to allow residential. Had a substantial number of the apartment units been allocated as affordable, perhaps the density being required on Lincoln or other areas could be lowered.

The apartment complex and hotel proposed on the 13 acres only take up less than half of the site. Why isn’t the city changing the density on the balance of the 13 acres to high density residential since they are proposing changing the 24 hour fitness site on Katella to high density residential? Why put the onus on private landowners and existing businesses when the city could take the lead on this issue. Again, this could take the pressure off of the need for the level of density being proposed elsewhere in the city.

There were other comments made by staff as to why some of the buildings in the business park areas on Katella couldn’t be considered for zoning to residential. Reference was made to the Mitsubishi building. It was stated that it couldn’t be considered because it was under lease even though the environmental impact report was approved with the understanding that the building would remain vacant. Mary Kay recently left. Did they walk away from a lease? The commercial real estate broker that represents the site on Katella that used to be the Vans building indicated that he’s been trying to lease the building for over 3 years.

Although some may not want residential on those sites, it’s important to know that the old Vans building is being marketed as Cypress Distribution Center. Is this corridor otherwise destined to be a distribution corridor with more businesses like Amazon occupying those buildings or potentially for Amazon to expand into those sites? While not all of the Vans site may be available, is there an effort underway to consolidate sites that are underutilized such as the 25 acre Yamaha site so that a residential site could be found?

To propose residential zoning over existing viable businesses on Lincoln because the sites are deemed underutilized and because they are on a transportation corridor doesn’t seem reasonable if the city is going to ignore other businesses that fit the same criteria that are along Katella. One statement made by staff was very concerning when discussing buildings such as Mitsubishi and other large properties along Katella. Staff said that those large property owners aren’t interested in being included. Wow! If that’s really the standard then every small business owner that spoke against their property being rezoned should be given the same consideration.

Residents also raised concerns about schools. While it was stated that the school district was made aware of the workshop, it is important that residents understand the ramifications of this increase in housing units. Speaking just to the Cypress School District, the State uses a funding guideline for new residential developments of ½ of a student for each residential unit. As such, 4,000 new residential units have the potential of bringing in 2,000 more elementary school children. That is a 50% increase in the number of students currently being served. It is also important that everyone understands that the Cypress School District serves portions of Buena Park and La Palma. One resident suggested that rather than addressing this current housing increase by putting virtually all the units on Lincoln and Katella, it would be better to put a grid over the city to better allocate these units throughout the city. This would distribute the demand on the elementary schools more evenly.

Student housing was mentioned with Council Member Marquez being very passionate about the need. While staff stated that the City doesn’t control the Cypress College property, it wasn’t clear if the city could include student housing built on the college campus if the campus chose to include it in their master plan. Student housing would almost certainly be in the low income category, this could also lower the high density required for other sites.
While staff reiterated that the Housing Element does not mandate the actual building of the housing the city plans for, rezoning property for high density residential likely makes that property much more valuable which would provide an incentive for the property owner to sell the property out from under a business owner.

The contention that this is just a plan does not hold up well for the many businesses on Lincoln and in other areas of the city. It is likely that most of our small businesses do not own the property they occupy. While the existing Lincoln Specific Plan has some mixed use sites in the zoning, it is evident that those are not the sites the developers along Lincoln have acquired. Perhaps the zoning should have enough mixed use to retain all the businesses that are currently on Lincoln that could fit into the first floor of a mixed use project. Although the State wants to minimize obstacles to building affordable housing, it is very important that high density residential areas have businesses that can meet many of the needs of the residents within walking distance.

During their meeting on April 12, the Cypress City Council will select the scenario(s) that will undergo environmental analysis. In September 2021, the City Council will review the environmental analysis and consider a scenario for consideration for the Housing Element. The scenario chosen will have significant impacts on every resident with some residents and businesses impacted more than others. If you haven’t watched the meeting, I would encourage everyone to do so.

Cypress Housing Element workshop answers some questions but raises others