August 30, 1989 - From the August, 1989 issue

Councilwoman Gloria Molina: On the City Council, Mayoral Relations, Housing, and Redevelopment

Housing policy, CRA oversight, rent control—these are some of the issues the new Housing and Redevelopment committee will consider when the new Council committees are formed. The new Chairperson will be Councilwoman Gloria Molina of the 1st District. The Planning Report recently met with Molina to discuss policy and politics as the City Council begins its new term.


"We agree on clean air and the environmental needs of the city, but when we discuss stopping growth, the coalition breaks up."—Gloria Molina

What are your expectations for the City Council's agenda as it starts its new term?

The President of the City Council has refocused all of the committees and put in appropriate jurisdictions for each committee. I think the housing Committee and the Planning Committee will be very effective in setting a new agenda for the City Council. For once there is an actual Housing Committee that will have jurisdiction over all housing issues and will coordinate housing policy. It will create a mechanism to start enacting housing policy in effective terms.

Until now, housing has been in the Community Development Department, Planning, the Grants Committee, the Housing Authority, and the CRA. One Committee will now have oversite to put in place policies to bring about the development of housing, bringing up substandard housing, and addressing the housing crisis. I also think the Council will continue to stress environmental issues. We usually treat EIR's as a pro-forma.

What is the role of the Mayor's office in setting the agenda?

It's hard to tell. I wish that the City Council worked closer with the Mayor. In my two years, this has not happened. We are always reacting to each other's proposals instead of working together in a legislative partnership. The Mayor approaches certain issues by setting up task forceswhich at least gives us an idea of the kind of proposals he is interested in. But for the most part we are not operating in concert with each other. We have to start a dialogue with the Mayor. We may disagree, but the Mayor has to play an important role in formulating or commenting on citywide policy.

Is the Mayor weakened by the events of the last 6 months?

I think the Mayor's relationship with the City Council is the same, and that is unfortunate. I wish the Mayor would look to many of us and try to develop proposals collectively. The Mayor really hasn't changed his way of operating very muchhis issues are introduced by press conference, and eventually they make their way to Council in some sort of legislative format. But for the most part, I don't know of any Councilmember who has a working relationship with the Mayor. I think this is unfortunate because it doesn't allow for citywide legislative remedies.

How does this lack of communication influence housing policy?

This is a perfect example. Councilman Woo and I authorized about 15 various motions of housing policy which were in the process of review when the Mayor decided to put together the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee on Affordable Housing. The group started a very effective analysis of the present housing situation and put in place housing initiatives which closely mirrored our recommendations. As a result our recommendations did not move through the legislative process. In the end they were very similar and they are moving with one another through the process. But one problem is that alternate proposals can slow each other up.

There is some confusion as to who is the lead agency for housing. Who is your implementor of choice?

I'm not yet prepared to say who should be the implementor. I think that's one of the major policy areas that the Housing Committee has to address; the fact that the city has never had a Housing Committee talks about the disarray that housing policy is in. Just look at the implementation stage which is cut up into various departments. But I have yet to conclude who would be the proper agency.

Is your support of CRA a hint?

Oh no. I think that the CRA has done certain things well, but housing is not one of them. They have, however, done some good things. You look at what they've done for the central business districts as far as commercial development and selling up development agreements. But the reality is that the CRA has not focused on housing. You look at their housing statistics, and they're very impressed, but they're not very impressive considering the kind of money the agency has managed.

I think that housing is their lowest priority; it's not a money maker, but it is a responsibility. The agency is taking tax increment dollars that otherwise would be going into other social problems and housing. They have not been effective, but I think that they can be.

You're in favor or lifting the cap?

Three weeks ago I was in support of raising the cap. As we've been holding these hearings on cap oversight, I am not so sure anymore. I don't even know how much that amount is. The Mayor's proposal talked about $5 billion. The math works out to less than $1.5 billion which we would receive over twenty years. This is not a lot of money to build housing.

For anyone in the City Council who is interesting in developing more housing, lifting the cap will create a pool of funds, but it's not clear to us what the bottom line is. A lot of issues have not been clarified including the significance of the Ganb limit and the amount of money involved. If we do raise the cap, the Council must be directly involved in the priority planning.

Is there a new governing coalition taking shape for the City Council?

It's really hard to tell. In the past the City Council has operated with those kinds of governing coalitions, but I also think that what you're seeing now is a lot of independence from Councilmembers. I think that's healthy. You will find that some of us coalesce on environmental issues very clearly, but that coalition breaks up when you consider the implementation.

We agree on clean air and the environmental needs of the city, but when we discuss stopping growth, the coalition breaks up. There are people who are saying we need to address the economic needs and the housing needs of the city, and that means growth. It's hard to define whether there is a governing coalition.

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If you're looking for a governing coalition around the housing issues, what coalition takes shape? What 8 votes do you have?

I think I have all 15 votes when it comes to housing. I think everybody has confronted or been confronted by the housing crisis. The building of low-income and affordable units is going to be a priority for everybody in the City. How are we going to get therethe coalitions will be different. Mixed use is part of the solution. Some will be very opposed to mixed use, but it needs to be boldly introduced.

Where?

All over the city. The other part of housing is creating integrated housing. We can't rely solely on the inner-city members of the Council to create low-income housing or very low-income housing. I think you need an integrated housing plan for the entire city. Every single community plan and specific plan has to include a low-income and affordable housing mechanism.

Is that built into the community plan revision process?

It's supposed to be, but it’s not specific enough and we have to put more teeth into it. We need to include inclusionary zoning. But these are policy issues that the Council needs to address. That's why the coalitions may break down. Everyone wants affordable housing, but when you start talking about inclusionary zoning, for example, there are going to be some members of the Council who say that's fine in certain parts of the city but not in other parts of the City.

Who is going to subsidize this development?

Subsidies are the toughest issues to deal with. We have to recognize the reality that we will not be able to subsidize income by our housing development. We have to subsidize our high land cost, and the cost of building. We have to use every tool that's available to us to subsidize housing.

Some of the ones which have been presented have dealt with issues of inclusionary zoning, which incorporates low-income housing with any other housing which is built. Linkage fees will have to be introduced citywide so that commercial development pays some of the subsidy. And we must create an opportunity for non-profit developers to operate.

One of the biggest crises in housing is the inability of the middle class to afford home ownership.

The problems of trying to figure out how a middle income family is going to afford a single family house in this city is one issue that is very difficult to wrestle with. I think we may begin the framework of discussion within our committee, but I'm not sure I understand how we get to that point. To buy a house you can afford, you have to practically go to Fontana. We also have to make some major adjustments as to how we are all going to live in this city in the future. I think the idea of having large backyards is a thing of the past. We are seeing areas like Highland Park where single family housing are being removed in order to put up the 8 unit apartments.

Doesn't greater density help subsidize the land costs?

We will have to allow for greater density in order to offset what developers will be getting for low-income housing. The reality is that there are some major issues in the City that are not going to be addressed automatically with the Housing Commission or a Housing Committee or any kind of sweeping change. The reality is that we have created more of a magnet of people; there is an attraction to this City. There is no doubt that we are bringing more people into the inner city. And all of these problems are colliding with one another.

I do know that the reality of low and affordable housing units is so huge that until we start pulling some solutions in place, it’ s just going to get worse. When we look at other models in other cities, some of the solutions are inclusionary zoning, developing linkage fees and certainly creating a mechanism to develop an independent fundwhether you have a new property tax or document taxto bring in non-profits as well to build housing. The market is so tight that private developers and land owners are getting top price on everything. We're making a start, but I think that we're far behind when you look at cities as large as this. This is probably one of the most deficient cities when it comes to addressing affordable housing and creating a mechanism to start regulating housing policy.

A public/private partnership is currently undertaking a specific plan in your district for Central City West. ls this process a model for future large­scale development?

I hope it will serve as a model. It’s been an interesting education for me as I've gone through the process from the standpoint of what the community wants, the political tolerance for what you can build, and the implementing aspects of how to meet all of those needs. The specific plan for Central City West will probably be a model in many respects, and it starts to introduce new concepts which have never been introduced.

For example, after Prop U and AB 283, there arc 45 million square feet of commercial development in the specific plan. We have brought that down to 25 million. We arc also incorporating traffic mitigation and inclusionary zoning so that for any new housing built, 10% will be for low-income. Then we will have an integrated mechanism for housing so that you will have low, moderate and luxury. And for every square foot of commercial development in the Central City West, there will be a linkage fee assessed. Those funds will go in to a pot to develop low and very low-income housing. We are currently negotiating a linkage fee which will fall in the range from $3.50 to $5.00.

What's been fortunate about this process is that a group of developers needed zoning changes in order to maximize their opportunity and they were willing to work on tradeoffs. But the reality for the City is that we are going to have to look for those opportunities as well. We have to be careful, though, when it comes to affordable housing not to rest the burden only on the shoulders of new development.

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