City moves closer to allowing transitional housing

DOWNEY - The Downey Planning Commission waddled closer to complying with state mandates last Wednesday, unanimously voting to permit the establishment of transitional and supportive housing, emergency shelters, and single resident occupancy units. The decision comes years after city officials committed to comply with 2007 California law SB 2, which requiring cities to permit affordable housing facilities for low-income families, disabled, homeless, and elderly citizens.

The law also eliminates unreasonable development standards for such housing through mandated zoning modifications.

"This includes allowing transitional and supportive housing in all residential zones; and allowing transitional and supportive housing, along with emergency shelters in at least one non-residential zone," according to a staff report.

While officials committed to the policy changes in the city's general plan three years ago, the Planning Commission did not initiate the code amendment until last December after the Department of Housing and Community Development indicated it would not approve the city's obligatory 2014 general plan until the city complied with the law.

In a staff report to commissioners, city staff maintain that transitional and supportive housing will be permitted in all residential and hospital-medical arts zones while emergency shelters will only be allowed in the hospital-medical zone. Single resident occupancy units will be permitted conditionally in one residential zone and the hospital-medical zone.

After reviewing the impacts of such establishments, city officials do not believe they will cause an undue burden on residents.

"Staff believes that the proposed code amendment is appropriate and reasonable," said David Blumenthal, the city's senior planner. "The amendment will allow for the development of affordable and adequate housing that meets the needs of an underserved segment of the population."

The zoning code amendment must be reviewed by the City Council for final approval.

In a 3-1 vote, Robert Kiefer dissenting and Hector Lujan absent, commissioners also cleared the way for the operation of residential cottage food businesses last week.

If approved by the City Council, the home occupation section of the city code will be modified to allow cottage food businesses, which prepare, package, or process low-risk food products inside a private residence for individuals, restaurants, or grocery stores.

Cottage food business products usually include baked goods, toffee, dried fruit, granola, jams, jellies, trail mixes, popcorn, roasted coffee, or chocolate-covered non-perishables.

Effective January 1, 2013, state legislators are mandating all cities and counties allow such businesses in order to encourage the growth of small businesses and promote healthier food options in the community.

Cottage food businesses have already been permitted in 32 states as a healthy, sustainable food source.

City code currently prohibits such businesses from operating.

While the state limits such businesses from grossing more than $35,000 in sales in 2013, that number will steadily increase under the law and is projected to reach $50,000 by 2015.

In addition to obtaining health permits, the Los Angeles County Health Department has already set food storage and sanitation standards for all cottage food businesses.

In order to prevent a nuisance in Downey neighborhoods, city officials have also adopted regulations including limiting the number of employees to one person, prohibiting outdoor sales, and restricting deliveries and customer sales to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

According to a staff report, city officials believe the operations could become beneficial over time. "Food that is created and consumed locally has a reduced impact on the environment thus is considered more sustainable," said the report.

The City Council must review the recommendation and make a final decision regarding the code amendment.

********** Published: April 25, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 02