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Kern County’s dismal effort at building affordable housing shows through inadequate land sites

Update, April 14, 2021: The Kern County Board of Supervisors approved this item 5-0.

In the 2015-2023 Kern County Housing Element section of their General Plan, Kern County found that it did not have enough suitable land zoned for multi-family housing to allow for development that could meet the County’s need for affordable housing. 

In response, and to comply with state housing element law, programs 2.2.2 and 2.2.3 required the county to rezone 214 acres of land to multi-family residential development by Dec. 31, 2016. To this date, the county has not complied with its own housing element requirements to rezone 214 acres of land for high density residential development. 

Not only has the county not met its land requirements, this has contributed, or worsened, its dismally low number of affordable units built to date. The State Housing Element Law requires cities and counties to adopt housing elements that analyze the housing needs of residents and to adopt policies and programs to meet those needs. 

As of February 2021, only 1.7 percent of very-low-income units allocated and 3.5 percent of low-income units allocated were actually built. That’s compared to 45 percent of moderate-income units and 23 percent above-moderate units that were built during the same period.

[Related: California counties hold the key to solving the housing crisis]

On Oct. 22, 2020, the Planning Commission approved 199.24 acres which were apparently lost in a GIS Mapping Error. The Planning Department is now responsible for analyzing these sites to confirm that they are actually appropriate for multi-family housing residential developments. 

But clearly, the Planning Department is not appropriately analyzing the sites according to State housing law (government code 65583.2). Housing law requires counties to demonstrate that sites identified for rezoning are suitable for multi-family housing development due to their size, infrastructure availability such as water, sewer, and dry utilities, and identify environmental constraints such as flooding zones and fire hazards. These are some of the sites that the County Planning Department determines as suitable for high density housing. 

Why this matters:

Without suitable land for high density housing, developers do not have the ability to build high density housing. The County is more likely to build single-family homes and end up with a shortage of affordable housing. 

Meanwhile, the vast majority of funding for subsidized affordable housing is for multi-family housing.

While the county has not publicly analyzed the type of land it identified before voting on the sites at its meeting on Tuesday, April 13, 2021, we have. We found that the land identified by the county is next to freight lines and other environmental hazards. Some land is on tiny, irregular parcels, which often are far from utilities and services. 

The parcels are also clustered in East Bakersfield, rather than equitably across the county. By refusing to identify and zone high-quality sites for multi-family housing, the county fails its residents and its own legal obligations to those residents. For years, residents have demanded that the county do better. 

The county’s refusal to correct its housing disparities contributes to the housing crisis seen in California which disproportionately harms Black, Latino and Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

How you can get involved:

Call the Board of Supervisors during their meeting at 2 p.m. and tell them not to approve the current site inventory, which is not only lacking in planning but fails to comply with state laws. 

The identified land has not been appropriately analyzed to be suitable for high density housing, as can be seen with the examples above. The county must analyze the sites and rezone land to make up for the shortage.

We found that the land identified by the county is next to freight lines and other environmental hazards.

You can call and leave a voicemail with your comment, or send an email or call live during the meeting. This is item No. 33 on the 2 p.m. agenda. 

Call (661) 868-3640 to leave a voicemail of no more than two minutes in length. State and spell your name at the beginning of your message and clearly indicate the agenda item number you wish to address (with AM or PM session identified). 

Do not leave your phone number on the voice message since these messages are heard in public.

You can also submit your comment via email to publiccomment@kerncounty.com. Please include your name and clearly indicate the agenda item number you wish to address (with AM or PM session identified).

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