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Laguna Beach task force pushes forward on possible affordable housing sites

The Laguna Beach Affordable Housing Task Force decided to move forward on eight proposed sites for new affordable housing units at a meeting Thursday night.

The sites would cater to people such as senior citizens, low-income residents and students. The state defines “low income” as households making less than 80% of the median income in their area.

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The sites include publicly and privately owned land on Laguna Canyon Road, Raquel Road, Canyon Acres Drive, Coast Highway, Crescent Bay Drive and Sunset Avenue.

The task force also explored various funding sources for the proposed sites, including money freed up by Proposition 1, which state voters approved in the Nov. 6 election. The measure authorizes $4 billion in bonds for housing-related programs, loans, grants and projects for veterans.

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Members of the task force will file a report ranking the projects by feasibility.

The report, which will go before the City Council in January, is just the first step toward approving the new housing. Planning Commission approval also is needed.

The role of the task force is to “create the pathways and possibilities [for affordable housing],” according to member Louis Weil.

The effort is part of a bigger push to comply with a new state law, Senate Bill 35, which requires an expansion of affordable housing. Under SB 35, many Orange County cities, including Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, are considered to have insufficient affordable housing. Failing to produce enough units under the law’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment can result in loss of local control over building and permitting processes.

Currently a person needs to make $38.42 per hour to afford an average two-bedroom apartment in Orange County, according to the Kennedy Commission, an Irvine-based nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing. Laguna Beach residents need to make about $83,000 a year, or $39.47 per hour, to afford an average two-bedroom apartment, the group says. California’s minimum wage currently is $11 an hour.

Task force member Karen Martin brought up the figures during the meeting.

Laguna Beach is in the middle of the pack among Orange County cities in affordable housing already available. To be fully compliant, changes are needed to the city’s general plan and zoning laws to provide for more affordable units.

There has been no affordable housing construction in Laguna Beach since before 2006, according to the Kennedy Commission. The county as a whole needs 92,738 new affordable units to meet demand, the group says.

Task force member Mohammad Honarkar said there are challenges to finding suitable lots in Laguna Beach because steep terrain prevents many open spaces from being developed.

Katie Licari is a contributor to Times Community News.

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