Affordable Housing Is City of San Fernando's Hot Button

Once again the City of San Fernando’s City Council delayed the vote that would amend the guidelines of the current state law that allows for converted garages and back houses, also known as “granny flats.”

The council has been discussing an amendment that would require those structures to be constructed to only half the size of those that are currently permitted by state law.  

This is the second meeting where the vote for Ordinance U-1666, “an urgency ordinance,” has been delayed.   

The ordinance would limit converted garages and newly built second units to 640 square feet instead of the state limit of 1,200 square feet. 

The ordinance is a response to Assembly Bill 2299 and Senate Bill 1069 — two laws that took effect on Jan. 1 that made it easier for homeowners to build a small dwelling or convert their garages into second units on their property by removing fees and eliminating stringent parking requirements.

Ordinance U-1666 has been a contentious issue at San Fernando City Hall, causing tension for the past three council meetings with residents speaking both in favor of and against it.  

The vote was postponed again as it requires a full vote of the council.  When the ordinance was first introduced and up for vote June 5, Councilmember Robert Gonzales was absent.  On Monday, June 19, Councilmember Antonio Lopez was not present.  

Former             Assembly-member Patty Lopez, speaking during the public comment period, took issue with the ordinance and with the participation of Councilmember Joel Fajardo serving on the Ad Hoc committee for the ordinance, as Fajardo is one of the residents who applied to construct an additional dwelling on his property.  

When the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol inquired about this “conflict,” Mayor Sylvia Ballin pointed out that any resident who applies and is approved prior to the the city’s ordinance being passed would be able to build under the state’s current guidelines, and the city’s proposed ordinance would be far more restrictive.  Fajardo, according to Ballin, has agreed to adhere to the city’s ordinance if it is passed.  

Allowing residents to construct an additional dwelling behind their homes isn’t viewed as a solution to the astronomical numbers of homeless people throughout Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, but is considered a move toward creating some new opportunities for potential renters and extended family members to live.

The issue of affordable housing and the question of how much affordable housing construction is too much for the City of San Fernando continues to be debated.

Ballin has maintained that the city, with only a 2.4 square-mile radius, has more than its fair share of affordable housing projects, while others believe there is still room for more in the small town. 

A Coalition for Veterans Land has proposed the construction of what it has named the Mullen House Project — affordable housing exclusively for disabled veterans with families — but it hasn’t been met with an enthusiastic welcome mat. Some residents and Councilmember Jaime Soto have publicly spoken out against the prospect of having the Mullen House come to town.  

During Monday’s council meeting, a letter written to the city was read into the public record. In the letter, attorney Danny Aleshire from the law firm Lathan & Wilkins LLP questioned the city’s treatment and pointed out that the Mullen House is a “by-right” project that only requires review by the planning director and is exempt from the public hearing process.

Aleshire urged city officials “not to display any bias or animus against the project,” which he pointed out is the only veteran’s housing project proposed for the city. 

Perhaps anticipating the possibility of legal action, Soto had been told to withhold his comments about the project during council meetings. But, insisting on “transparency,”  Soto has ignored the advice from the city’s legal counsel, and spoke openly about the project. 

Referencing comments from Soto and the council’s June 5 meeting, Aleshire wrote:

“By calling into question the nature and character of the residents that the Project would provide housing for and the risk the Project presents to the community with its quote-unquote ‘high risk population of people’ that the city would be ‘wary or reluctant to accept.’ We were very troubled by these comments.”    

Holding a public hearing that would allow residents input on the project and support the council blocking the project would violate state law and the city’s own code requirements, according to Aleshire, which could smack of discrimination against veterans.

“The veterans that the Project is intended to provide housing for have served and protected our nation, and they merit the support of our elected representatives rather than antagonism,” wrote Aleshire.  

In a previous interview, Ballin told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that her husband is a Vietnam Veteran and she “understands and supports both veterans and the need for affordable housing.” However, she emphasized her position not to rubber stamp more affordable housing construction and she has supported a building moratorium to allow time to re-evaluate the city’s growth and planning.

“The City of San Fernando, unlike other towns, has met the required numbers for affordable housing. We have done our part. It’s time for other cities to step up,” Ballin said.