Facts and Myths

Response to Opponents’ Flyers

October 30, 2011

Yesterday, many of you received campaign mailers from Phil Reyes, Henry Baltazar, and Liz Reilly attacking the record of the Duarte City Council and supporting Baltazar and Reilly for city council on November 8th.

I respond with 5 points to consider before you go to the polls:

1. Phil Reyes has been on the Duarte City Council for 18 years and he shares responsibility for the appearance of Buena Vista Street and Huntington Drive.

2. Over 10 years ago, other council members and I supported the vision of a biotech center on the northeast corner of Buena Vista Street and Huntington Drive. (See the pictures below to view a flyer that was distributed 10 years ago describing the biotech center.) Reyes led the effort to stop the project, creating a potential lost opportunity for a corner that looks much the same today as it did then.

3. Today’s economy requires flexible strategies that strengthen our entire community, investment in infrastructure with projects like the Gold Line, and wise allocation of your tax dollars on investments that make sense. Unlike Baltazar’s and Reilly’s pursuit of a single narrow focus, we are more likely to succeed with diverse strategies that allow us to act on various opportunities as they become available.

4. While I have served you on the city council for 24 years, my career has been with Southern California Edison. I view my work on the city council as community service. I believe I have served with enthusiasm and passion and have contributed in a meaningful way to our city’s future. After reviewing my efforts, if you believe my work on your behalf is unsatisfactory, you should give due consideration to other candidates.

5. Duarte and Monrovia are two of five finalists for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation’s (LAEDC) Most Business-Friendly City Award for cities with a population of 60,000 and under. In Los Angeles County, 58 cities have populations below 60,000. Whether we are #5 or #1, we are in the top 10% of Most Business-Friendly cities.

I trust this council’s leadership. I trust we all will do what is best for Duarte on election day.

Below: 2001 Flyer on the Proposed Duarte Biotechnology Center

Response to Allegations about Affordable Housing on Huntington Drive

A recent flyer was distributed with allegations about the City Council approving and rescinding authorization for an affordable housing project on Huntington Drive. I am responding to the allegations.

“On August 23, 2011, Councilmember John Fasana, Lois Gaston, Tzeitel Paras-Caracci, and Margaret Finlay voted to construct a 4-story, 66-unit low-income housing project on Huntington Drive, the heart of our city."

On August 23rd, these council members did support the construction of the affordable housing project on Huntington Drive.

“At first, these Councilmembers attempted to pass the project without consulting residents (required by law). They were stopped only when staff alerted them.”

This allegation is false. The DCTV (www.dctvduarte.com) video of the August 9th city council meeting (video 2 of 3), from the 36th minute of the video to the conclusion shows the following sequence. The City Attorney began reading the various ordinances and resolutions for this item into the record. Director of Community Development Craig Hensley then stated a neighboring property owner indicated before the meeting began that he did not receive the required notice. Hensley claimed staff checked and verified before the meeting began that the notices had not been sent. This was the first indication we had that there was a problem with the notices. I indicated I would like to continue the whole thing to the following meeting, but at the same time put out some concerns that could be addressed at the following meeting. Councilmember Gaston indicated we should all start at square one and bring this back at the following meeting. Councilmember Finlay and Mayor Paras-Caracci also concurred with this approach. Members of the public who had signed up to speak were allowed to do so, but the item was put over to the next council meeting. After hearing public input, the council approved a motion to continue the whole item at the next meeting (August 23rd).

“The project contractor, Abode Communities, was chosen without performing a bid process. More so, under the agreement of this project, the City Council chose to give Abode $6.8 million in taxpayer dollars to purchase property and build the project.”

As explained below, the $6.8 million could not have been used for purposes other than low or moderate - income housing. In fact, the City is at risk of losing these funds if they are not used on a timely basis, and still would be obligated to meet its housing needs.

Many development projects are not selected through a bid process. The city entered into an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement (ENA) with Abode. An ENA provides incentive for developers to spend capital to develop an outstanding project. Developers are less likely to spend enormous resources up front without an ENA. An ENA can be used subsequent to a Request for Proposal (RFP) or can be provided in response to initiative and interest from a potential developer. An ENA typically is for a defined time period and may or may not be renewed. An ENA does not always lead to a Disposition and Development Agreement (DDA) between the city and developer, although this did occur with Abode as described in response to #4.

The City is required by the State to address regional housing needs. The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) quantifies the need for housing within each jurisdiction. Duarte’s current RHNA allocation is 367 units consisting of affordability categories including Very Low (less than 50% of area median income [AMI]), Low (51% to 80% AMI) Moderate (81% to 120% AMI), and above moderate (above 120% AMI). Some of the required units will or are being built through other projects that have been approved. We have not approved enough projects to meet our 367 unit goal, although we recently received information that the unit goal may be reduced to account for the current economic downturn. The Abode Project would have been in the Low category.

Cities must incorporate their housing allotment into the local Housing Element of the General Plan and make the necessary zoning and general plan changes to allow for such development. These regional housing needs not only address the number of units a city must provide, but the number of units within each general affordability category. The City's approved Housing Element designates this site for residential uses targeted at affordable housing. We now plan to amend our Housing Element to indicate this affordable housing will be provided next to our Gold Line station.

In addition to the regional housing needs requirements, the City is also responsible for providing funding for affordable housing as a part of redevelopment requirements. For all redevelopment funds that are collected, 20% of the funds must be set-aside to use for affordable housing. These funds (including the $6.8 million mentioned above) can be used to acquire property, rehabilitate or construct buildings, provide subsidies for low– and moderate–income households, or preserve public subsidized housing units at risk of conversion to market rates. These are not funds that can be used for commercial projects, local programs or to supplement the City’s General Fund. Residents of the proposed affordable housing project would have paid monthly rents ranging from $576 to $961 for the two bedroom units and from $666 to $1,100 for the three bedroom units. Based on these rents, the annual income of families in this project will range from $25,620 to $49,550. This is well above a single earner minimum wage income, reflecting that there would be hard working families living in these units.

“Despite multiple meetings where residents strongly voiced their opposition, the City Council refused to move the project. It took the threat of recall to change their position on the issue.”

This is incorrect. First of all, Lois Gaston and I are up for election in November and cannot be recalled this close to our election. We knew before initially casting our votes that we would be up for reelection in November. We cannot speak for the other members of the council as to why they changed their positions. We will provide you with our perspective. The item as indicated above first was on the city council agenda on August 9th. Because the required notice to neighboring property owners was not provided, the item was carried over to August 23rd when Resolutions were passed approving the project on a 4-1 vote. Note the item still required a 2nd reading of the Zone Change and General Plan amendment Ordinances at a subsequent meeting for the project to move forward. The August 23rd approval of the Resolutions, including the DDA, on the agenda did allow the project applicant to meet a deadline to apply for funds from the State of California Multiple Housing Program (MHP) fund, a State program that provides assistance for lower income residential projects. After August 23rd, council members and city staff continued to receive feedback on the decision. I attended a meeting in the adjoining neighborhood on Saturday evening, September 10th, as well as a meeting with some businesses along Huntington Drive. Lois also attended meetings. Nearly all parties we spoke with opposed the decision we had made. At the September 13th meeting numerous residents spoke about the item even though it was not on the agenda. At the conclusion of the meeting, I requested the item be placed on the September 27th agenda with alternatives. At the September 27th meeting, the required zoning changes for the Abode project to move forward were not approved, and staff was directed to pursue a location near the Gold Line station near Highland Avenue and Duarte Road. We made our decision based on subsequent input received from the public and a determination by staff that moving the project near the Gold Line could help jump-start development next to our Gold Line station.

CONCLUSION:

The parties circulating the flyer believe businesses belong on Huntington Drive and claim this city council lacks vision and economic-sense. Belief may allow for projects to be built but it does not fund them. The City Council has worked for nearly 8 years to implement the Downtown Duarte plan. After years of trying, we believe we need a more realistic vision that will not require massive subsidies.

Since 2003, the City has lost several million dollars in available redevelopment funds (other than affordable housing funds) to State raids. Our staff has reviewed several proposals that have been received from developers. All the proposed “Downtown” developments have been predominantly residential. Most of the proposals would have required large financial subsidies beyond the City’s resources. We are not willing to use our City’s reserves or your tax dollars to make up for lack of interest by private sector developers.

©2012 John Fasana