Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Is Hertel-Cabrillo Smart Growth?

In today's Star, Camille Harris poses three very good questions about whether the Hertel-Cabrillo project represents smart growth. (,1375,VCS_125_5382526,00.html) These questions deserve thoughtful answers. Here goes.

1. Did this project conform with Ventura's avowed philosophy of smart growth? One of the principles of smart growth is that residents be able to walk to whatever they need, in the interest of keeping cars off the crowded roads as much as possible. It did not appear that these residents can get so much as a quart of milk without driving for it.

Rather than focusing on putting retail into every single residential project that's built, no matter how large or small (which can be a business failure), i think it makes more sense to strengthen our neighborhoods ,especially by creating connections to nearby locations with retail and community amenities.

The Hertel-Cabrillo project is located much closer to stores than most other tracts in East Ventura. It is less than a quarter-mile from the retail center at Citrus and Wells -- well within walking distance. You have to walk down Citrus past the apartments and the vacant lots. This may not be a pleasant walk yet, but as the neighborhood changes over the years it will get better -- especially if the vacant lots are eventually developed for more retail (as, I believe, is called for in the draft Saticoy & Wells Community Plan).

In addition, the Community Plan calls for a pedestrian overpass almost immediately adjacent to the Hertel-Cabrillo project that would connect this project to more retail and more community amenities (including, possibly, a library) to be built on the south side of the freeway. Eventually, residents of this neighborhood will have better pedestrian and bike access to retail and other community amenities than almost anybody else in East Ventura.

2. Did this project conform with the city's avowed support for "inclusive" affordable housing? Lumping underprivileged children together into projects can have a stigmatizing and marginalizing effect, and it prevents their being included in activities seemingly reserved for the economically advantaged. Could Ventura's inclusive affordable housing requirement be stronger?

Actually, this project envisions families of different incomes living together in a much more holistic and inclusive way than any other project we have ever seen in this city. About one-third of new the housing units will be single-family homes available to the general public -- and most of these people will have to have six-figure incomes to qualify for a mortgage. About a third are townhomes that will be sold to middle-income working families -- probably people who make between $50,000 and $70,000 per year. And about a third will be rental apartments made available to people whose jobs pay them less than $50,000, meaning they are pretty much priced out of the ownership market. All these folks will live in the same small neighborhood, which -- as I said before -- will be linked to a larger community that includes folks of all incomes. So I think the Hertel-Cabrillo project actually comes closer to dealing with these issues than the typical housing development.

3. Did the $3 million subsidy the city awarded to the developer on the very next agenda item practically empty the affordable-housing money pot and hand it over to just one developer for one project? Could this possibly be characterized as cronyism?

In this particular case, the city is getting 60 desperately needed affordable rental units at a cost of $50,000 apiece. This is just about the lowest subsidy imaginable for this kind of housing, so from the city's point of view it is a great value. As for the allegation that we are engaging in cronyism by investing this money in one project, let me just say that for several years we have been subject to the opposite criticism -- that we are sitting on the money and refusing to give it out because we don't want affordable housing. What I'm in favor of is investing the city's affordable housing money in projects that will actually be built and make a difference in people's lives.

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