State remedies for housing crisis fall short in Central Valley


California’s regional housing needs allocation remedies Dinuba’s housing crisis with 1,588 added units, opens the doors to future housing complications in the Central Valley

Photo by Kenny Goodman
Dinuba plans to build a mix of low to upper income level housing in the city to comply with state housing law but the paperwork is becoming more complex and expensive.
Photo by Kenny Goodman
Rural cities like Reedley are working to meet state requirements for new housing but are concerned the mandates will lead to urban sprawl and create other issues.

DINUBA – A state mandate to address housing needs city-by-city could bring more than just new housing opportunities in Dinuba and surrounding communities.
In Dinuba, the big focus is developing more low-income housing, but city planning consultant Karl Schoettler said the city wants to attract middle and upper-income households as well. Like surrounding Tulare County communities, Dinuba is a city with a high population of low-income households, but even so, he said the city would prefer to keep a balance between housing opportunities for multiple financial classes.
“You don’t want a city where it’s all low-income and no upper-income, or all upper-income and no affordable housing,” Schoettler said. “A little bit of everything is what we’re looking for.”
From the 1,588 housing units that are planned for the city through Dinuba’s housing element, 625 are for very low to low-income housing, 268 are for moderate-income housing and 695 are for above-moderate income housing. The units, whether they be housing lots or multi-family units, will be developed primarily around the edges of the city, which is set to happen over the course of the next eight years.
“The state will have to take a close look at seeing if we have enough multi-family zoning, and if we don’t, then one of the action plans of the housing element will be to zone additional land for apartments,” Schoettler said. “The state pretty much only considers apartments to be ‘affordable housing’ for those lower income households.”
Although he does think this overall attempt from the state to address housing issues will help to some degree, Schoettler said effort would be better spent actually making the housing happen instead of “analyzing it to death” with housing elements. As someone who has worked on these elements for years, he described them becoming more complicated and expensive, and overall, as a game of tug of war between the state and its cities.
“Sometimes it feels like the whole process has just become about analyzing rather than making sure more housing is happening,” he said.
Due to the ever-increasing complex nature of the housing elements, Dinuba along with the cities of Tulare, Exeter, Lindsay, Farmersville, Woodlake and Porterville have taken part in a multi-jurisdictional housing element through a consultant based in Fresno, Rincon Consultants Inc. The coordinated effort is being made by the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG) and is taking place from 2023 to 2031.
According to TCAG’s web page for the regional housing element, Tulare County as a whole needs 33,214 additional housing units to support the county’s population. According to TCAG, this number is in accordance with a calculation of income levels based on an area median income (AMI), which in Tulare County, is $80,300 per year for a household of four.
Housing elements are updated every eight years and must be certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) by a predetermined deadline. According to TCAG, for this round of the housing element, the certification deadline is Dec. 31, 2023.
“There’s a lot of information that consultant is going to have to work on getting all put together, that’s why they’ve started now,” Schoettler said about the housing element’s current progression. “I’d say they’re roughly in the middle of the process.”
In accordance with the element’s developmental timeline, Schoettler said the project should be adopted by the state around springtime 2024. From a survey that was held to gather some community response from what residents would like to see through this development, Schoettler said people have reported back with a little bit of everything. He said residents don’t want just one type of housing and want to ensure there are affordable options for housing as well as moderate and upper-income lots.
“They want to make sure that it fits well with the neighborhood, especially if it’s affordable housing, that it’s designed well, that it blends well with the surrounding neighborhood, that it doesn’t make it look bad or bring down the neighborhood,” he said.
Although there is no date established for it just yet, Schoettler said a community workshop is coming up to provide an update on the housing element and get more community feedback. The meeting will be open to the public and he said it is also likely to be held on Zoom so people that cannot attend the meeting in-person have an alternative method of participation.
State’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ tactic doesn’t cover the Valley
Housing elements are put together by cities to ensure there is enough housing to accommodate each city population, regardless of a household’s income. These elements are a product of the regional housing needs allocation (RHNA), a state mandate that requires cities, towns and counties to plan for the needs of their residents.
However, Schoettler is on the same page as other city officials in terms of these housing developments—at least for communities within the Central Valley. For the larger cities across the coast, laws are being made in response to housing crises being experienced across the state. However, on Schoettler’s account, as well as on the account of other city officials from various Central Valley communities, what works in the bigger cities does not always work here.
“They’re kind of pushing a one-size-fits-all solution on the entire state, even low density, small towns out here in the Valley,” Schoettler said.
An aim from the state to alleviate the housing crisis is Senate Bill 9, which went into effect in 2022. The law is meant to address the crisis by providing a new way to increase the housing supply, making it so two-unit housing developments can be established on single-family lots.
However, along with this, Schoettler said the law has brought items like lot size and density into question. In another attempt to address the issue of housing, the bill also calls for cities to allow smaller lots to be developed at 1,200 square feet. This means the median for the size of housing parcels is becoming smaller and neighborhoods could become dense with houses and cars; neither of which are particularly designed for that, according to Schoettler.
“That’s going to be very out of character for this area,” he said. “I think once people start seeing [these developments] near them, they’re going to be upset because they’ll be concerned about the density and what it might do to their property values, overcrowding and schools.”
Nicole Zieba, the city manager for the city of Reedley, echoed Schoettler’s statements, saying that the state’s one-size-fits-all housing laws and regulations are ill-conceived and ultimately hurt rural cities in several ways.
“We have tried to get the state’s attention on these issues, but everything falls on deaf ears,” Zieba said.
In Reedley, the RHNA for the city is 1,400 new housing units that have to be built over the next five years. Zieba said that the city must zone for and establish the required housing regardless of how the city’s water situation looks, what the housing market actually looks like and regardless of what the community wants to see in their own neighborhoods. She followed up by saying that city councils in every city across the state have had their discretion stomped away by the state.
“Of biggest concern to me, however, is that rural cities are the most likely to see sprawl—even when they don’t want it,” she said.
Urban sprawl, also referred to as suburban sprawl, is defined as the spreading of urban housing developments on undeveloped land near a city. They can be recognized by their lot-by-lot of low-density residential homes often built in close capacity, single-use zones for a single housing unit per parcel and an increased reliance on vehicles for transportation, since they are often a notable distance away from cities.
According to Zieba, urban sprawl could happen within cities like Reedley because developers are much more likely to purchase ag land found along the fringes of cities to build more housing units. This is because ag land is cheaper than the pricier infill property, which rededicates land in urban environments that already exists but is more difficult to build on because it is not untouched like ag land is.
This means more prime land for agriculture is eaten up with very little that cities can do to stop it, from Zieba’s account. It also increases the likelihood of people moving to rural cities because an abundant supply of housing leads to lower prices on the housing market; meaning that residents must endure longer commutes to bigger cities, where most jobs are usually found.
“This puts more pollution into the air and puts more strain on local roads and highways since mass transit isn’t yet economically feasible for rural cities,” she said.
According to Zieba, cities—including Reedley—have tried suing the state on the matter, but the judges on the case ultimately ruled against them. This was based on the determination that the cities in question voted in the lawmakers who made the laws, so the only option to fix the problem was to vote them out.
“Not entirely feasible when the public is so unaware of these issues, and when lawmakers don’t have control over what the department bureaucrats in Sacramento are doing,” Zieba said.