Luxury Home Builder Puts 8 Low-Income Rentals in Plan : Housing: Rancho Palos Verdes City Council approves Ocean Trails developers' effort to fulfill a court order. Critics say that is not enough.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an effort to fulfill a court order to provide more affordable housing, the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council has approved a plan requiring the builders of a proposed 79-unit luxury housing development and golf course to include eight low-cost rental units.

The plan, which the council approved 4 to 0 on Tuesday, requires the developers of the 261-acre Ocean Trails project to include four low-income units in the development and to build or buy four low-income units elsewhere in the city.

The development has been stalled since July, when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien ruled that Ocean Trails failed to meet state guidelines requiring affordable housing in new coastal projects.

City officials and the developers, Palos Verdes Land Holdings Co. and Zuckerman Building Co., will submit their plan to O'Brien on Monday. The city had approved the project in December, but environmental groups filed suit claiming the project failed to address a host of concerns including access to the coast and affordable housing.

O'Brien decided to rule only on the affordable housing issue.

The project's eight low-income units would almost double the number of recently built affordable units in the city. To the dismay of affordable housing advocates, only 10 such units in recent years have been built on Palos Verdes Peninsula, all of them in Rancho Palos Verdes.

The development, which would be built off Palos Verdes Drive South, will include homes of at least 3,500-square feet and priced at more than $2 million.

The affordable units would be at least 850-square feet and would include two bedrooms. Employees of the golf course would get the first chance to rent the units.

Income eligibility would vary. Under county guidelines, a family of four with an annual income of no more than $38,650 qualifies as low-income. Rent for such a family could not exceed $966 per month.

At the council meeting, plaintiffs in the suit, including the Sierra Club, the Coastal Conservation Coalition and other environmental groups, said that eight low-income units would not be enough.

If all 79 Ocean Trails homes are built, affordable units would make up 10% of the project's housing. Other coastal cities, such as Santa Monica and Malibu, have required that 20% or more of new homes be affordable.

"Why 10%?" Frank Angel, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told the council. "Even this city has done better in the past. It has done 20%."

But city officials said that providing more than four units at the site would threaten the financial viability of the project. The developers need to build as many luxury homes as possible to make the project financially secure.

In addition, officials said, state law does not specify how many units have to be provided.

The four units outside the Ocean Trails project would be available once the developer sells half of the custom homes.

Council members argued over limiting eligibility for the off-site units to only low-income tenants. Some council members wanted to expand it to those with moderate incomes, which would have opened the units to a family of four making up to $57,947 per year. It also would have allowed the developer to charge up to $1,449 a month in rent.

The developers "ought to be able to build on their property based on the market," said Councilman Steven Kuykendall. "It seems like everyone is getting rich on these projects except the people building it."

But Councilwoman Jacki Bacharach said that the city already has a supply of homes that moderate-income families can afford.

"We have a responsibility to also make (the use of our land) help people," she said. "If we're going to do it, let's do it right."

Affordable Housing

The 261-acre Ocean Trails project in Rancho Palos Verdes calls for 79 luxury homes and an 18-hole golf course. Under a requirement approved by the City Council this week, the development must also include eight units of affordable housing--four on-site and four off-site.

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