Inclusionary ordinance close in Tuolumne County

February 25, 2008 12:00 am

It's about time.

Nearly five years after they promised to do so, Tuolumne County supervisors last week agreed to adopt an ordinance requiring developers to reserve a certain percentage of the homes they build for low- and moderate-income families.

The so-called inclusionary ordinance, accepted by the board Tuesday, requires those proposing projects of 10 or more units to price at least 10 percent of them within the budgets of families earning the county median income (now $55,000 a year) or less. The prices of those homes would then remain regulated for 15 years.

According to state statistics, a median income family of four can now afford a $225,000 home and a low-income family, a home of $170,000.

This 10-10-15 plan was the product of argument, negotiation, trade-offs and demands that began in late 2003. Formal adoption, with changes added by the board, is scheduled for March.

Check your calendars: More than 1,500 days and nearly 200 board meetings have passed since supervisors first pledged to enact an inclusionary ordinance.

The process began in the early 2000s, when it became clear that affordable housing was in short supply. An uphill spiral of home values fueled by demand from well-to-do retirees left few options for those with moderate or low incomes.

In early 2003 the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce and the county Board of Realtors formed a Housing Affordability Task Force to address the problem.

The impetus? Local businesses were having trouble finding workers who could afford to live in Tuolumne County.

The board of supervisors bought into many of the Task Force's recommendations: Its members, on Dec. 10, 2003, adopted a General Plan Housing Element listing an inclusionary ordinance as key a step toward bringing more affordable homes to the county. Protest was minimal and approval was unanimous.

At the time, Community Development Director Bev Shane said she hoped to have a draft ordinance ready by the summer of 2004.

But a funny thing happened on the way to adoption.

Non-specific, non-binding talk of an inclusionary ordinance in the General Plan was one thing. Actual adoption of a development law loaded with requirements, numbers and thresholds was quite another. Opposition, much of it from the building and real estate fields, quickly emerged and a lengthy tussle began.

While it would be easy to label opponents as obstructionists or to fault the board of supervisors for a lack of political will, the bottom line is that the process worked.

The inclusionary ordinance did not fall victim to the lengthy skirmishes, as many backers had feared. The board did not adopt a battery of draconian requirements that would bring the already hurting building and home-sale industries to a halt, as some opponents feared.

Instead, thanks to dedicated negotiators from both sides and a few hard decisions by the board of supervisors, the 10-10-15 plan emerged as an acceptable compromise.

Sure, adoption took far too long. But in the end all voices were heard and supervisors did the right thing.

Once formal adoption comes and the ordinance goes into effect, it will be time for the county Community Development Department to do what's really important: Efficiently and effectively implement the new law so wage-earners, until now shut out of the local housing market, can realize their dreams.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board — Publisher Ron Horton; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.