Small houses. Medium houses. Houses next to retail. Houses next to offices. Houses on top of houses.
The three land-use map alternatives that debuted Feb. 2 all have one thing in common: zoning for tens of thousands of additional apartments, condos and houses that don’t exist today, nearly all of it contained along the 101 corridor and much of it focused on multifamily dwellings.
Although the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment only requires that Thousand Oaks provide for an additional 2,600 units by 2029, the city is looking further out, Community Development Director Kelvin Parker said when asked to explain the amount of residential zoning contained in the maps.
“That’s only a small picture,” he said of the RHNA figure. “The general plan that we’re building now is going to have a life cycle of somewhere between 10 and 20 years, so as part of that, we’re looking at development types in the city overall.”
Under Measure E, Thousand Oaks’ growth-control initiative, the city may legally add up to 33,000 units to the four “areas of change” because they are being subtracted from existing neighborhoods that were underdeveloped, Parker said, resulting in no change to overall residential capacity.
According to a 2017 staff-led study of the 1996 general plan on which Measure E was based, the city has a capacity for up to 81,000 units—around 48,000 exist today. The vast majority of those 33,000 unused units are currently within existing neighborhoods that have already been constructed.
“What we’re doing now is just redistributing the 81,000 . . . in areas where the city can actually change and grow, potentially, over the next 10 to 20 years,” Parker said.
The neighborhoods where the units are “captured” will be protected from any future development (although state law still permits accessory dwelling units, or granny flats).
City Attorney Tracy Noonan said it’s important for residents to understand what “capacity” means in the context of the land-use map and Measure E.
“Capacity is not the same thing as what density or population growth is. It’s very different,” she said. “Capacity basically refers to the maximum amount of development that would occur in an area if every single parcel developed at its maximum capacity, which would never happen. It’s a theoretical number. It will never be reached.”
Noonan said the focus at this point in the discussion should not be on the total amount of units in the maps but rather what types of development residents prefer.
“Especially right now it should not be. Right now we really want feedback on what is the community’s thoughts on these different development types. That’s really what’s important right now,” she said.
At least one member of the 24-person General Plan Advisory Committee is concerned that all three maps take a far-too-drastic approach to housing.
Mic Farris, former planning commissioner and a longtime slow-growth proponent, said the council debated build-out in the 1990s and came to the conclusion that there was enough infrastructure to support around 50,000 units—not 81,000.
“The realistic number, the one that our city with the general plan and how we’ve zoned it and how we’ve applied it and what are our development conditions are, the realistic number is closer to 50,000,” he said. “It’s been that for a very long time.”
Farris, a resident since 1993, bases that number on years of council discussions regarding the city’s target population, which he says is 135,000. Former city attorney Mark Sellers, author of Measure E, has said the original general plan envisioned a city of 180,000 people.
“No serious public discussion has ever occurred that the target population for Thousand Oaks would be 215,000 people, which is 81,000 times 2.73,” the average number of people in a single unit, according to the city’s housing element of the general plan, Farris said.
Instead of tapping into a fraction of the additional units available to meet the state mandate and provide a better mix of housing, the proposed maps take every unit available and place them into 8% of the city, the Newbury Park resident said.
Farris said the process is legally sound but flawed in its approach because it does not properly take into account the city’s infrastructure.
“No one ever thought the plan (in 1970) at that point, or the infrastructure we would invest in, would be able to support 200,000-plus people,” he said.
Farris said he hopes residents get involved now because once the changes are made, existing state law will make it difficult for the city to go back and downzone in the future.
“If we’re not careful of how we got here, we could screw up how we got here,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t address RHNA numbers, that we shouldn’t look at the proposals and say ‘there are some interesting things here,’ . . . but we do not need to be forced to think our only decisions are big-change alternative one, big-change alternative two, big-change alternative three.”
Noonan said California housing laws do not allow the city to store its unused density.
“We’re not allowed to keep this bank of density in the cloud and apply it to a specific parcel, it actually has to be applied on parcels now. It cannot just be held off to the side,” the city attorney said.
Speaking to the Acorn from his home in Washington state this week, former Councilmember Dennis Gillette came out strongly in favor of the plan update.
“The need for the kind of housing, the need for the kind of age group and socioeconomic group that’s moving into the city and needing certain types of housing, (Thousand Oaks) can’t remain the same and survive,” he said.
The city’s current land-use map leans heavily toward single-family homes.
Gillette said when he was on the council from 1998 to 2012 city leaders had to fight for every inch of new residential development, leading to the housing shortage the city is dealing with today.
“I’m talking meetings until 3 or 4 a.m. over a small housing development,” said Gillette, who called Thousand Oaks home from 1963 until 2013. “And that was common.”
The octogenarian said the characteristics of Thousand Oaks that people love so much—open space, the green hills, miles and miles of trails—are preserved under the current land-use map proposals.
“Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed my Thousand Oaks, my rural retreat,” he said. “But we can’t be so afraid of change we lose what we have.”
GENERAL PLAN UPDATE