Message from the Mayor | Santa Cruz examines objective standards – Santa Cruz Sentinel
The City of Santa Cruz, like many other cities in the state, develops objective standards for reviewing applications for multifamily housing and mixed-use development.
This effort is largely in response to California state legislation that requires jurisdictions to adopt objective standards and implement them as part of a streamlined review of qualifying housing projects.
The goal of the state law change is to support the development of new housing in California communities, as part of the effort to address the housing crisis. Changes to California state law now require cities and counties to use only development standards that can be objectively defined and measured when reviewing new housing development applications.
These objective standards could include such things as building heights, required setbacks from adjacent property, requirements for the number, size and location of windows, landscaping and building standards. lighting or other quantifiable and measurable characteristics of buildings and properties.
Objective standards are defined by state law as “standards that do not involve any personal or subjective judgment on the part of a public official and are uniformly verifiable by reference to an external and uniform reference or criterion available and knowable to both the development applicant or proponent and the public official prior to submission” (California Government Code, Section 65913.4).
• SB 35: Streamlined Affordable Housing: Requires approval of qualified housing projects based on objective regulatory standards.
• SB 167: Housing Accountability Act: Local government cannot deny, de-densify, or render unworkable housing projects to meet objective design standards.
• SB 330: Housing Crisis Act: Prohibits imposing or enforcing new design standards established on or after January 1, 2020 that are not objective.
The Municipal Code for the City of Santa Cruz currently has only a few objective and measurable development regulations, so the city needs to write more specific standards to ensure that new multi-family and mixed-use housing development projects improve the environment. Santa Cruz’s built environment and create new homes that residents find comfortable and provide different choices that would affect the cost of housing construction.
To better understand what residents in our community would like to see in our objective standards, the city has implemented an engagement process over the past year and a half to identify and implement the objective standards that matter most to our community. Focus groups included college students, renters, Latinx-Chicanx, eastern residents, low-income households, and young adults. Responses to questions posed through the community engagement process were used to help identify and define the community character of Santa Cruz and help prioritize trade-offs when formulating objective zoning standards.
Additionally, drafts were forwarded to the Planning Commission for review, and on August 23, 2022, City staff made a presentation at the City Council meeting. Council has yet to make a decision and continued the item until September 13, which has now been pursued again until the November 15 council meeting.
I recommend reading the staff presentation materials. To read the materials, visit bit.ly/ObjectiveStandardsPresentation. We hope that the additional time, until the November 15 meeting, will give our community time to seek clarification and understand the recommendations and details of the objective standards, as well as submit other questions or comments in the feedback form on the city’s website at: https://bit.ly/CITYWIDEMULTIFAMILYOBJECTIVESTANDARDSPROJECT. City staff will contact community members who have asked questions.
The purpose of developing objective standards is to comply with recent state housing legislation, establish an objective framework by which an eligible project will be evaluated, implement streamlined processes for eligible projects , to ensure that eligible projects align with the city’s expectations and vision to maintain and support the city’s character and provide a clear set of criteria to guide development.
They can be a powerful tool for communities to respond to state housing laws that reduce local control of development. They help ensure that the appearance of the new development is compatible with the City’s community vision. The standards will provide more certainty to the community, applicants, staff and decision makers.
Sonja Brunner is the mayor of Santa Cruz.