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Turlock must plan for homeless housing, according to state law

Turlock must plan for homeless housing, according to state law

Volunteers serve dinner at the We Care homeless shelter for men. The city must soon decide how they will serve the homeless community, according to Senate Bill 2.


POSTED November 20, 2009 6:34 p.m.
The draft Turlock Housing Element update, a document that will prepare the City of Turlock to meet housing needs through 2014 and may include a provision that allows homeless shelters in Turlock, was released for public review and comment last week.
The document lays out the City of Turlock’s plan to address the housing needs of various populations, ranging from low income to high, the elderly, and the disabled, most of which has gone unaltered from previous Housing Elements. Turlock was found to have a sufficient amount of land already zoned to meet projected housing needs through 2014.
However, the most controversial aspect in preliminary town hall meetings on the update has undoubtedly been the need to comply with California’s Senate Bill 2, which forces jurisdictions to address housing for the homeless.
“I think the biggest changes that you’re going to see from past practice have to do with new state laws that have gone into effect since the last housing element was updated,” said Turlock Planning Director Debbie Whitmore. “… Probably the biggest change is what is being required of us to address Senate Bill 2.”
The bill requires all jurisdictions that do not already host a year-round emergency shelter for homeless individuals to follow one of two paths. Cities may either pursue a partnership with neighboring jurisdictions to provide, build, and operate an emergency shelter by August 2011, or they must create a zone that allows the development of emergency shelters by right.
The City of Turlock is currently pursing the multi-jurisdictional approach, according to Whitmore, and is in talks with both a non-profit based in the City of Patterson and the City of Merced to discuss developing a shelter which would have the capacity for Turlock’s homeless. Turlock has yet to run their proposed partnerships by the California Department of Housing and Community Development
“In order for us to be able to demonstrate compliance, we’d have to show we have reasonable transportation to get there,” Whitmore said. “I think if you could demonstrate you could reasonably get people to the location, maybe with bus passes or something, you could probably make an argument.”
The City of Turlock expects to move forward with a partnership no later than February 2010. Otherwise, the city will come up against the August 2010 deadline by which it must comply with the zoning alternative, should no multi-jurisdictional agreement arise.
Under the zoning alternative, the City of Turlock would have to designate a zone — such as industrial or commercial — where emergency shelters are permitted by right, and do not require Conditional Use Permit or review by the Planning Commission or City Council. The city could also opt to adopt a zoning overlay, whereby a specific area of Turlock would be designated for shelters rather than a zoning type.
Turlock can set some conditions on the shelters that would be allowed by right, restricting development by size, accommodation standards, and aesthetic virtues. The process for constructing a shelter could be similar to the process recently adopted for large family daycares, Whitmore noted.
Should Turlock move forward with the zoning solution, the city would likely begin holding public meetings in January or February 2010 on what the best area might be. The city would also solicit suggestions from service providers and non-profits that currently work in the homeless area.
Whitmore acknowledges that the work has yet to truly begin on the zoning solution, and that it could be a long row to hoe to establish an area where emergency shelters are permitted in the City of Turlock.
“It’s going to be a tough process,” Whitmore said, “it’s going to be controversial.”
The Draft Turlock Housing Element will return before the Planning Commission on Jan. 7, 2010, for review, and will then likely proceed to the City Council on Jan. 26.
The 2007-2014 Turlock Housing Element is available for download and review at http://www.gpupdate.turlock.ca.us/
Comments on the draft Housing Element and Negative Declaration are due by 5 p.m. on Dec. 15. Comments may be submitted to the Turlock Planning Division at 668-5640, through e-mail addressed to dwhitmore@turlock.ca.us or by mailing Debra Whitmore, Deputy Director, Turlock Planning Division, 156 S. Broadway, Suite 120, Turlock, CA 95380-5454.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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