Read the Irvine Community Land Trust Q4 2019 Newsletter: New Affordable Housing, Tax Reform, Affordable Housing Conference, and More!

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  

Since I joined the ICLT, we’ve built two below-market rate apartment communities, Parc Derian and Doria, for families making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median household income; some residents earn less than 30 percent of the median income, which in Orange County is $97,900 for a family of four.

ICLT Chair Melissa Fox speaking at the groundbreaking of Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine.

Recently, we celebrated the groundbreaking for Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine. On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom.

Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

As the Orange County Register observed, these affordable communities offer “a new beginning for veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness.”

New Communities, the first modern land trust, started 50 years ago in Georgia by the descendants of slaves.

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), I have been actively working with members of the California State Legislature to enact tax reforms to make it it much easier to create affordable housing throughout California.

The new legislation, SB 196, which ICLT and I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire, and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, and which has now been signed into law by the Governor, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes.

The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.  As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”  Now that’s been changed.  Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much more practical to build more housing for more people in need.

Mark Asturias, Melissa Fox, and Leon M. Nappier at New Communities.

Last month, I traveled to Georgia with ICLT Executive Director Mark Asturias and fellow board member Leon M. Napper for the Reclaiming Vacant Properties and Grounded Solutions Conference. While we were there, we visited New Communities, the first of the modern land trusts, founded in Leesburg, Georgia, in 1969, a former plantation is now owned by the descendants of slaves and dedicated to conservation and racial reconciliation. This land trust went on to inspire the hundreds of community land trusts that exist today, ourselves included.

All of these recent events are covered in our Q4 2019 Irvine Community Land Trust Newsletter HERE.

The affordable housing we’ve created with ICLT profoundly and positively impacts the health and education outcomes for hundreds of people. That’s why I volunteer to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust. The affordable housing crisis isn’t just about buildings. We’re building communities for all the people who desperately need a place to live, including children who need a positive environment to thrive.

You can learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.  You can read about it HERE.

Leading Real Estate News Source Highlights Irvine Community Land Trust’s Role in a Enacting New Tax Reforms Expected to Fuel Affordable Housing Construction in California!

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), I have been actively working with members of the California State Legislature to enact tax reforms to make it it much easier to create affordable housing throughout California.

The new legislation, SB 196, which ICLT and I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire, and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, and which has now been signed into law by the Governor, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes. The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.  As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”

Now that’s been changed.  Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much more practical to build more housing for more people in need.

I’m very pleased that GlobeSt.com, a leading real estate news source, has written about our success.

Here is their report:

The New CA Law That Could Generate Loads of Affordable Housing
SB 196 provides a property tax exemption to affordable housing developers during construction.

By Kelsi Maree Borland

“Last week, Gavin Newsom signed a SB 196 into law, creating new opportunities for affordable housing throughout the state. The new law provides a property tax exemption for developers of affordable housing during the construction phase—the first three to five years after purchasing raw land. The legislation is expected to go a long way in fueling more affordable housing development.”

“Organizations like the Irvine Community Land Trust have been advocating for like legislation for years. ‘We have been looking at legislation to support community land trusts for many years,’ Mark Asturias, executive director of the ICLT, tells GlobeSt.com. ‘Our land trust was looking at the welfare exemption specifically because of the high property tax carry cost here in Orange County. Many people understand that the cost of land and housing is very expensive in Orange County, and in our world, we can’t carry the cost of market-rate land. Because most of our land is developed through a public partnership, we hoped to get this in place to use money to pay for the construction of new projects.'”

“Asturias anticipates that the legislation will be successful in generating more affordable housing, which the state of California desperately needs. ‘This is a wonderful opportunity for us. We are now going to be able to develop properties without paying taxes on the property at market rate while we are trying to get our entitlements in place,’ Asturias. ‘In California, it takes three to five years to get through the process from the day you buy the property to the day you can actually finish the construction of the house.'”

“The legislation does come with a caveat. Developers must start and complete their project on time, or they must pay back the taxes. ‘We talked with many people in the community land trust about how long we would need to develop vacant land. It is usually three to five years,’ Asturias says. “We didn’t want to represent to anyone as we were getting this bill put forward that we were land banking, meaning that we were going to hold vacant land and not develop it. That isn’t the mission of a community land trust, and we felt that was reasonable to put a limit on the amount of time that the exemption could be in place. That was a fair trade-off in our view.'”

“The state and Governor’s office is on a mission to combat the housing crisis, and this is only the latest piece of legislation. ‘We want to demonstrate that we can offer a variety of tools, and we believe that the Governor recognized that,’ says Asturias. ‘With all of the legislation that he is passing, we believe that he is demonstrating an effort to address the entire housing spectrum.’”

Our next affordable housing community for the Irvine Community Land Trust is 68 owner-occupied townhomes on Native Spring alongside the 133 toll road.  The ILCLT  has been under contract to buy the land from the city for four and a half years, but has held off closing escrow until the new legislation is in place, saving an estimated $600,000 in property taxes.  Now we are able to move forward immediately on this innovative and exciting project in affordable home ownership!

Learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

You can read our ICLT Newsletter HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations. Read about it HERE.

We Just Opened a New Affordable Housing Community in Irvine and Made it Easier to Create Affordable Housing Throughout California!

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  Like all Irvine Community Land Trust Board Members, I serve as a volunteer, without compensation.  

Since I joined the ICLT, we’ve built two below-market rate apartment communities, Parc Derian and Doria, for families making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median household income; some residents earn less than 30 percent of the median income, which in Orange County is $97,900 for a family of four.

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for Solarno, the Irvine Community Land Trust’s newest affordable housing community.

Last week, we celebrated the groundbreaking for Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine.

On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom. Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

As the Orange County Register observed, this affordable community will be “a new beginning for the veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness who will become its tenants when it opens next year.”

In addition, I’m excited to report on the passage of new tax break legislation I’ve been fighting for in Sacramento, which will make it much easier to create affordable housing throughout California! 

The new legislation, which I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes. The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.

As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”

Now that’s been changed.

Before the new legislation, property taxes were not adequately adjusted for below-market rate housing.  Landowners such as the ICLT that wanted to build affordable, below-market housing couldn’t get a property tax exemption until a project was underway, and county tax assessors interpreted that requirement to mean anything from shovels in the ground to tenants moving in.  In the case of Salerno in Irvine, where vacant land is assessed at approximately $4 million an acre, taxes on the land amounted to $275,000, which had to be paid before the project could be constructed.

Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much more practical to build more housing for more people in need.

Our next affordable housing community is 68 owner-occupied townhomes on Native Spring alongside the 133 toll road.  The ILCLT  has been under contract to buy the land from the city for four and a half years, but has held off closing escrow until the new legislation is in place, saving an estimated $600,000 in property taxes.  Now we are able to move forward immediately on this innovative and exciting project in affordable home ownership!

Learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

You can read our ICLT Newsletter HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations. Read about it HERE.

Join Me on Thurs., September 19 at 10:00 a.m. for the Groundbreaking for Salerno — the Irvine Community Land Trust’s Newest Affordable Housing Community!

In 2018, I was elected to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, (ICLT) guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  Like all Irvine Community Land Trust Board Members, I serve as a volunteer, without compensation. 

We build high-quality affordable rental, ownership and special needs housing for the benefit of income-eligible families. Located in the heart of Southern California’s one of the most expensive real estate markets, there is a tremendous need for affordable housing.

Because this is our home, too, the we are committed to ensuring that Irvine is a place where everyone can call “home.”

On Thursday, Sept. 19, at 10:00 a.m., we’ll be hosting a groundbreaking ceremony for our latest project — the 80-unit Salerno.

You are invited to attend!

On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom.

Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

Like all ICLT homes, qualifying residents must register on our Interest List: www.irvineclt.org/interest-list.

Please know that parking will be limited, so come early!

I hope to see you there!

You can read our ICLT Newsletter HERE.

In 2019, ICLT was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations

 

 

 

Irvine Releases Proposed 2019-2021 Budget. Tell Us What You Think!

The City of Irvine has released a proposed budget for FY 2019-2021.

Tell us what you think!

I ran for City Council on a platform of using my skills as a business attorney to safeguard every public dollar, and I have kept that promise by making sure that Irvine is financially transparent and accountable, and doesn’t spend more than it can afford.

Government transparency and fiscal responsibility should be neither a conservative nor a liberal idea, but appeal to both, as we strive to address increasing social needs with limited resources.

I am proud to have received the Orange County Taxpayers Watchdog Award from Orange County Auditor-Controller Eric H. Woollery, along with Mayor Don Wagner and Councilmember Christina Shea.

I am proud that during my tenure on the Irvine City Council, Irvine has received numerous awards for fiscal responsibility and transparency. These awards reflect the commitment that I and my colleagues on the Irvine City Council have made to the taxpayers and residents of Irvine, and to the principles of government transparency and fiscal responsibility.

I am also proud that during my term in office, Irvine has adopted the Irvine Sunshine Ordinance that expands public notice to four times longer than California law requires, and has approved a two-year budget cycle, along with a five-year financial planning program. These changes make planning more transparent, give residents more opportunity for input into budget and planning, and make city government more accountable.

The City of Irvine has now released its proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2021.

Prior to proposing a budget for FY 2019-2021, the City hosted four Community Budget Meetings in March. These meetings were the City’s first-ever attempt at both informing constituents about the state of its finances and seeking input on spending priorities before the budget proposal was finalized.

Strategic priorities addressed in the proposed budget include: maintaining high-quality essential City services, enhancing Citywide mobility through transportation improvements, promoting innovation through effective use of Information Technology solutions, and recruiting and retaining high-quality employees.

Next in the process, the budget will be presented to the Finance Commission in April 2019.  These meetings are open to the public and your continued input in the form of public comment is welcome.

My appointee to the Finance Commission is Roger Sievers. Roger is a long-time corporate CFO/VP/Controller with a master’s degree in finance from Stanford University who cares deeply about ensuring both Irvine’s financial health and our quality of life.  He would love to hear from you about the proposed FY 2019-2012 budget. He can be reached at rsievers@cityofirvine.org.

Following Finance Commission input, the proposed two-year budget and five-year plan will be presented to the City Council for approval in May.

For more information about the budget process, and to access the Fiscal Year 2019-21 Proposed Budget, visit cityofirvine.org/budget.

You can also contact the City of Irvine’s Financial Management & Strategic Planning Department at 949-724-6255.

Democracy Requires an Election to Fill the Vacancy on the Irvine City Council

When Irvine Mayor Donald Wagner took office as an Orange County Supervisor, Mayor Pro Tem Christina Shea automatically took his place as Mayor.

As a result, there is now a vacancy on the Irvine City Council.

Democracy requires an election rather than an appointment to fill this vacancy.

According to law, a vacancy on the Irvine City Council can be filled by appointment by the remaining four members of the Council or by election by the vote of all the residents of Irvine.

Even if the City Council appoints a new member, the people can still override that appointment and demand an election by filling a petition signed by seven percent of the voters of the City.

Some argue that precedent and financial concerns support appointing the third-place runner-up in the previous election to the open seat on the Irvine City Council, rather than holding an election in which the people will choose the person to serve as their representative.

In fact, neither precedent nor principle support an appointment over the people’s choice as determined by an election.

Since the incorporation of Irvine as a City in 1971, there have been three times that a vacancy needed to be filled for a councilmember.

In the first instance, on October 15, 1985, Ralph A. “Ray” Catalano, a professor at UCI and a former planning commissioner, was appointed to serve the remaining three years of Councilmember David Sills term when Sills resigned from the Council to become a superior court judge.

Significantly, Catalano was not the next highest vote-getter in the previous election.  Catalano was not even a candidate in that election and had never run for office. The person who was the next highest vote-getter in the previous election, Mary Ann Gaido, was not appointed to the open seat. Catalano later explained that he was a political compromise choice and was picked by Sills as his successor.

That is the only time that the Irvine City Council has used an appointment by Councilmembers rather than an election by the people to fill a vacancy on the Council.  In every other case of a vacancy on the City Council, the seat has been filled by a vote of the people in a special election.

Our very first Irvine City Council election was a special election, held on December 21, 1971, when Irvine residents approved the City charter.

On November 6. 1990, a special election was held to fill the vacancy on the City Council when Councilmember Sally Anne Sheridan was elected Mayor the previous June. The next highest vote-getter from the previous election – again it was Mary Ann Gaido – was not appointed.  Bill Vardoulis, who had not run in the prior election, entered that race and won that special election.

On November 3, 1992, a special election was held to fill the vacancy on the City Council when Councilmember Art Bloomer resigned with two years remaining in his term.  The next highest vote getter from the year of Bloomer’s election – and it was again Mary Ann Gaido — was not appointed. Greg Smith won that special election.

Additional special elections have also been called numerous other times for various reasons, such as voting on charter amendments, measures and ordinances.

In fact, in the history of municipal elections in Irvine, special elections seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

Third-place candidates have been elected to the City Council under Measure A, which was adopted by the voters in 1991.

Measure A provides in that in City Council elections where one of the sitting Councilmembers is running for Mayor, the voters can cast three ballots for candidates for the office of City Council, so that “if a council member whose term of office has not yet expired is elected to the office of Mayor, the vacancy in the office of that Councilmember shall be filled by the candidate for Councilmember receiving the third highest number of votes.”

So far, this situation has happened four times.

On June 7, 1988, third-place City Council candidate Cameron Cosgrove was elected when Larry Agran was elected Mayor.

On November 7, 2000, third-place City Council candidate Beth Krom was elected when Larry Agran was elected Mayor.

On November 2, 2004, third-place City Council candidate Sukhee Kang was elected when Beth Krom was elected Mayor.

On November 4, 2008, third-place City Council candidate Larry Agran was elected when Sukhee Kang was elected Mayor.

Our current situation is very different from those cases.

In those cases, the voters were given the explicit opportunity to vote for three candidates for City Council.

As a result, the third-place candidate gained his or her seat on the City Council directly and democratically through the knowing vote of the people, not by appointment based on coming in third when the voters only had the choice of two.

Indeed, as I have shown, our City has NEVER appointed a Councilmember based on a third-place or next-highest finish in a previous election.

Some have argued that we should use this method of appointment – which we’ve never used before – simply in order to save the money that would need to be spent on an election.

First, it should be noted that other local cities are conducting special elections for councilmembers that could easily be coordinated by the Orange County Registrar with our own, thereby reducing the cost of the election.

Most importantly, however, I believe that democracy is worth the cost.

Democracy is far from perfect.

Many of us are convinced that we could pick better officials than those the people elect.

But that is not what our nation is about.

We elect our officials as our representatives; they are not appointed over us.

Democracy is messy, inefficient, and, yes, sometimes expensive.

In the words of Winston Churchill, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

I agree.

We should fill the vacant seat on the City Council with the choice of the people as determined by an election.

UPDATE:

On Wednesday, April 3, 2019, the Irvine City Council officially declared a vacancy on the Council.

I have been informed by the city’s attorney and the city manager this declaration “starts the clock” regarding the process of filling the vacant council seat. We now have 60 days from April 3, 2019, to come to an agreement on the appointment of a new Councilmember or there will be an election.

Residents have 30 days from April 3, 2019, to file a petition signed by seven percent of Irvine’s registered voters to require an election regardless of what the council does.

UPDATE:

There is now a Republican proposal to circumvent this voting process by using an arbitrary ‘point proposal,’ under which “each Councilmember shall list three (3) applicants [candidates] in order of preference.” The candidates will be assigned the following point values: Top candidate 3 points, second candidate 2 points, and third candidate, 1 point.

Under this proposed procedure, the applicant receiving the most points will be appointed.

This proposed “point ” procedure:

(1) has never been used by the Irvine City Council to decide how to fill a council vacancy or to make any other appointment;
(2) violates the most crucial principle of a representative democracy — that the people’s representatives are selected by majority rule.

Arbitrarily assigning points to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice applicants, and then saying the applicant with the “most points” wins, is simply a way to avoid majority rule. It undermines the basic legitimacy of Irvine’s government.

Please attend the next Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 9, at approximately 3:00 p.m. to make sure your voices are heard.

UPDATE:

While the so-called “point” procedure was defeated at the last meeting, the question of whether to appoint or have an election is still not settled.

Please attend the next Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 23, where the Council will likely decide either on a process for appointment of the 5th council member to the vacant seat or deadlock to cause an election.

Closed session starts at 4:00 p.m. and the open meeting begins at 5:00 p.m. The agenda is packed so this may run late.

Let the voters have their say!

 

The City of Irvine’s Budget Will Not Include Cuts to Irvine Schools

Recently, City of Irvine staff proposed that, due to a projected budget shortfall, the City should consider cutting its support for Irvine’s public schools and reduce its spending on public safety.

I strongly opposed these cuts.

While I am concerned about the City’s fiscal health and our budget — a topic I will address soon in a future blog post — I do not believe that it is in the best interests of Irvine’s residents to curtail our support for education and public safety.

Due to my opposition and that of other City Council Members, as well as conversations between myself and Irvine Unified School District Board Members, and IUSD and City staff, reductions to school funding will no longer be proposed for the upcoming City budget.

Here is the official announcement:

“A special message about the City of Irvine’s $80 million in cash grants and program support for Irvine schools since 2008.

The City of Irvine has proudly provided cash grants to benefit Irvine schools and students for 13 years. The City uses vehicles such as the Educational Partnership Fund (EPF) program, established in 2006, and the Challenge Match Grant Program, created in 2008, to facilitate support.

From 2006 through June 2019, the City has provided $32 million in direct cash grants benefiting Irvine schools. The City is continuing to commit another $4 million annually for the next two fiscal years, for a total cash contribution of $40 million to benefit Irvine schools.

Beyond cash support, the City provides over $10 million annually in direct and indirect services to Irvine schools and students. The City of Irvine has provided over $80 million in direct and indirect support benefiting Irvine schools since 2008.

Indirect programs include school resource officers at middle and high schools; D.A.R.E. instruction so that elementary school students refrain from drug use and bullying and practice responsible internet use; crossing guards; middle school and high school youth action teams; and joint field and pool use. The two Partnership for Educational Excellence Programs grew from $1.5 million per year to $4 million per year in direct cash grants. The City Council established this funding because schools are a priority; voters affirmed it, and the Irvine City Council continued this unique funding tradition after the voter measures expired in 2016.

The City remains committed to supporting Irvine schools. The City is also committed to its long-term financial planning, transitioning to a two-year budget and a five-year financial plan. The City’s financial condition shows a structural deficit. The executive management team values transparent discussions early in the budget planning cycle. This includes open dialogue at community meetings, in order to facilitate a proposed balanced budget that meets many needs. City executive management proposed a host of changes and reductions to address the shortfall, including a possible reduction to some of the $10 million in annual support to Irvine schools in order to ensure adequate City and Police services.

While reductions to school funding will no longer be proposed for the upcoming budget, we need to work together to find constructive approaches. The City faces leaner times. We want to ensure our support for Public Safety, which is a top priority for the Council and the community, is not jeopardized. Mutual cooperation and productive communication is critical for effective long-term financial planning that balances community priorities and the City’s budget.”

Thank you to the many Irvine residents and IUSD Board Members who reached out to me and other members of the City Council opposing these cuts.

Our voices have been heard.