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Thousand Oaks Seeks New Limit on Housing

With the city nearing build-out, planners back a 50% reduction -- to 250 -- in the number of residential units that are allowed each year.

November 27, 2002|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Thousand Oaks, one of the first local cities to set annual limits on housing construction, wants to cut its 500-unit maximum in half as the city approaches build-out.

With a landmark city ordinance that regulates the pace of residential construction expiring Dec. 31, the Planning Commission voted Monday to extend the measure through 2007 -- and to cut the city's yearly allotment to 250 dwellings.

"It's a very good idea to have something in place to control growth," said outgoing Chairwoman Claudia Bill-de la Pena, whose recent election win means she can vote on the issue again Dec. 17 when it comes before the City Council.

The Planning Commission's only real debate before its unanimous vote was just how far the city should go to slow growth.

Commissioner Randy Hoffman suggested dropping the annual limit to 100 dwellings, but he was cautioned by a city attorney who said such a low number would be hard to defend legally and might invite a lawsuit from developers.

Bill-de la Pena, who also favored lower limits, proposed a compromise: Extend the ordinance for five years, rather than the proposed 10, to ensure the city carefully monitors the pace of development to determine whether affordable housing goals are being met.

Councilman Dennis Gillette said the council is committed to slowing the pace of residential construction.

"The lower numbers seem to create a greater comfort level with the community," said Gillette, adding that he would support a lower limit if it could be justified. "Establishing unrealistic figures that are only bait for litigation serves no worthwhile purpose."

Bill Fulton, a Ventura-based planning expert, said Thousand Oaks is a well-planned affluent suburb that will not be able to limit its population growth forever.

"They are just trying to stall the inevitable as long as possible," he said. "I don't blame them, it makes political sense.

Under state-imposed rules, cities are required to accommodate certain levels of population growth and include affordable units among new dwellings.

Thousand Oaks, a city of 121,000 residents, is now at about 94% of anticipated build-out. City officials expect about 3,000 more dwellings.

Of that additional 3,000, about half already have been approved, so extending the ordinance only affects about 1,500 units, or six years' worth of allotments.

John C. Prescott, planning division manager, said the remaining units would be built on about 150 acres. For perspective, the city's planning area -- including unincorporated county neighborhoods such as Lynn Ranch and Casa Conejo -- contains 38,000 acres.

When initially approved by voters in 1980, Measure A sought to rein in the city's feverish construction. Thousand Oaks was the state's fasting-growing suburb of its size in the 1970s, with about 1,500 homes built each year.

Measure A slowed construction and forced developers to compete for a limited number of housing allotments, a total ratcheted down to 500 per year by 1982.

The law succeeded in limiting the speed of growth and in heightening competition between builders. That prompted developers to offer land for open space, parks, schools, bike and equestrian trails or add units for low- and very-low-income buyers and renters.

Despite today's red-hot housing market, the number of allotments issued has fallen in recent years. After 468 allotments were granted in 1998, the city approved 262 during the next two years; 346 last year, mostly as part of a land-swap deal to acquire 191 acres of permanent open space; and 37 to date this year.

Prescott's staff members project that the demand will most likely dip to an average of 100 annually over the next decade. For 2003, just three housing projects, with a total of 61 units, are expected to be eligible to apply for allotments, according to the city.

Mayor Pro Tem Andy Fox suggested in July that the annual housing allotment be halved from 500.

But outgoing Mayor Ed Masry said this week that adjusting housing limits "is just a placebo" that misses the bigger issue -- too much development being permitted over the last two decades.

The greatest future threat, he said, comes from about 8 million square feet of commercial and retail space the city's General Plan anticipates eventually will be built beyond today's total.

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