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City Drops Housing Plan for Elderly : Neighborhoods: Younger residents had argued that a high-density complex for senior citizens would harm property values. Officials must find a way to satisfy a state requirement to provide affordable homes.


LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — City officials quickly dropped the hot potato of high-density housing for the elderly after younger residents argued that such a project would drive down housing prices and ruin the city's single-family character.

Two weeks after a heated La Canada Flintridge Planning Commission hearing, a staff report to the commission Tuesday night backed off from tentative moves to construct senior citizens housing. The report suggested instead that the commission "establish a study which addresses" the issue by fiscal year 1994-95 and said high-density housing might not be the best way to meet the housing needs of La Canada's elderly.

"The primary housing needs of more affluent seniors are to reduce the maintenance on their homes, increase the security of their surroundings and maintain their real estate investment base," the staff report said.

Because of the city's aging population--23.3% of its households are headed by people 65 years or older--La Canada Flintridge was looking at senior citizens housing as the path to meet state requirements for affordable housing.

But instead, Planning Commission Chairman Tom French said, the city might follow the precedent set by other affluent communities, such as San Marino and Bradbury, and count guest houses and maids quarters as affordable housing.

State officials have said that they have no problem with such a plan, provided the accessory living quarters have a separate kitchen, bathroom and entrance.

"It will be OK as long as we take care of (senior housing) in some fashion. It's got to be driven by the marketplace; if it's bureaucratically driven, it's probably going to fail," said French, who is 73.

But using accessory living quarters to meet state-mandated requirements "doesn't meet the qualification," said Patricia Harker, 54, who has lived in the city for 30 years and served on the citizen's advisory committee that found a potential spot for high-density housing.

"To pawn it off on that is just that--pawning it off," Harker said. "The one thing I'm hearing over and over again is 'not in my back yard.' We should be really be sensitive to what we really are. We are a community of all age levels. We're not going to survive being a single-family community."

The citizens advisory committee in March identified the Verdugo Boulevard corridor as a suitable place for senior housing. The area is close to Verdugo Hills Hospital, parks, churches, shops and Descanso Gardens. It also has a view of the San Gabriel Mountains and easy access to public transportation.

But the mere talk of 30-unit-per-acre senior housing in a city where the median household income is $78,965 met with vehement protest two weeks ago.

Calling herself a "key organizer against senior housing," Cindy Wilcox, 36, said her family made financial sacrifices to move to the city two years ago and that people who didn't do the same shouldn't be entitled to move in at lower cost.

"I have set . . . priorities to move here. I have worked hard and saved money," Wilcox said, adding that she didn't want people "who haven't set the priorities" or "have set different priorities" moving into the area.

Wilcox said high-density senior housing or any affordable housing would invite traffic that would overwhelm the area. She also charged that the state mandate for low-income housing is not compatible with the affluent community.

"People here are mostly wealthy. They can take care of themselves or choose to leave the area and retire in San Luis Obispo," Wilcox said. "And if they can't afford it (here), they can also move to Montrose."

But whether the community likes it or not, a state mandate is something that has to be considered, Harker said. "I think there are many beautiful ways to provide senior housing," she said. "As the population ages, they want to stay here but don't want to maintain the (large) house."

State housing officials cite the city of Belvedere, in the San Francisco Bay Area, as an example of what can be done. The Marin County community set aside several acres in its rolling countryside in the late 1980s and built an 11-unit low-income complex for senior citizens.

Low-income housing is defined as housing affordable to someone making 80% of the median income for a region, according to the state housing department. Cities also must provide very-low-income housing, defined as that affordable to someone making 50% of the median income.

Each city is assigned a certain quota for such housing according to its population. For example, La Canada Flintridge, with its 19,378 residents, must provide about 270 units.

The Planning Commission will meet again at 7 tonight at City Hall.

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