We sat down with Lenny Grant, leader of our Architecture group, and Tim Walters, leader of our Engineering group to talk about their involvement with the Housing & Infrastructure Action Plan in San Luis Obispo County.
Tell us about the history of the Housing & Infrastructure Action Plan?
LENNY: It started around 15-years ago when the local EVC started an economic strategy project. This effort came together to figure out the economic hurdles to growth in San Luis Obispo County. The strategy included eight clusters, with each cluster focused on an economic area within the county that creates the most jobs. These clusters included building design and construction, knowledge, and innovation, uniquely SLO County, specialized manufacturing, health services, and energy. The one impediment that was found universally in all clusters was that the cost of housing was too high for our area. There was a disconnect between income levels and housing prices. What does that mean to our local business community? Across the board, there was an issue trying to attract and retain employees to our area.
TIM: The first thing we did as a group, knowing that the high cost of housing in our area was an impediment to all the clusters mentioned above, was create a housing survey that was sent out to community members. It was important to get feedback from the community to understand their housing preferences. The aim was to create a balance with local cities and government agencies who were doing community planning with the needs of our local businesses. Working with a task force that included members of the EVC, the central coast Home Builder’s Association, the Housing Coalition, County Supervisors and County staff, a regional plan for housing and infrastructure began to emerge that fostered ideas and creative approaches to solving the need for housing in San Luis Obispo County.
What were some of the solutions you came up with?
TIM: We know that in order to make strides toward solving the housing needs around the County, new areas of land zoned for housing, near job centers, near transit and near available infrastructure is critical. Early efforts centered on regional collaboration between the local Cities, Community Services Districts, and the County along with the task force to outline goals for achieving success in providing new housing opportunities resulting in a Countywide compact signed by the Cities and the County to encourage more housing. The next steps are to develop a strategic action plan and then to align the land use and circulation elements for additional land for residential multifamily (RMF), residential single-family (RSF) homes, and new communities. Along with zoning land, it is important that infrastructure projects and funding are in alignment with housing opportunities through the County capital improvement projects, the regional transportation plan, and the sustainable community strategies, a three-pillar approach. The County has been a great partner, facilitator, and leader for the community in this effort. The housing and infrastructure plan policies and objectives are incorporated into the County’s 2020 housing element update.
LENNY: The variety of housing types are critical as well; it could not all be condos or high-density housing. A wide spectrum of housing types is important for the success of the plan, creating a mix of single-family, townhomes, condos, cottages, and ADU’s, is the best path forward.
TIM: The plan was presented to the Board of Supervisors, along with a pact that was signed by all the cities within San Luis Obispo County to support this regional housing effort. It took a tremendous synergy of local officials, advocacy organizations, and business owners to create a plan that everyone could get behind.
Could this process be used by other counties?
TIM: Yes, especially in coastal counties that are not as keen on growth as other counties. It all boils down to having long-range goals for housing in your community.
LENNY: Also having a plan that was led by an effort between both public and private stakeholders has allowed for policies that include smart, well thought out ways the County can grow, help local businesses attract and retain employees, and align infrastructure needs.
To learn more about this plan, visit SLO County’s Regional Infrastructure and Affordable Housing Planning page here.