Feb. 21, 2023 — Visalia City Council
Documented by Hugo Galindo
Here’s what you need to know
- The latest meeting of the Visalia City Council highlighted a community in contention with the proposed construction of a Section 8 complex.
- When given the chance to speak, members of the public expressed generally unfavorable viewpoints toward the new housing; with grievances ranging from bureaucratic headaches to environmental impacts.
- Despite the unanimous vote to move the housing project ahead, members of the council made it clear that they too weren’t happy with the project, and encouraged residents to pursue their grievances with the state Legislature.
- Mayor Poochigian was straightforward in his conviction that fighting the construction would result in a loss for Visalia, legally and financially. But the audible anger from the audience begs the question: was the bureaucratic and federal root of this issue conveyed clearly to the public? And, either way, how will the public move forward knowing this information?
- The identification of native foxes living at the site was also a concern for residents cautious about the new housing complex. To this end, residents requested that the council test the DNA of the wildlife to ensure they are not an endangered species before any construction begins. Still, the proposal passed with no clear understanding of the endangered status. If the foxes were to be tested in the future, producing proof of endangerment, what liabilities would the city face? How might this affect the proposed housing complex?
- “How do we say ‘If you’re low income, you don’t deserve this place to live’… I don’t want to stigmatize low-income housing; we need that, we need someone to do those minimum-wage jobs.” Visalia City Council Member Liz Wynn
- Mayor Brian Poochigian
- Vice Mayor Brett Taylor
- Council Member Steve Nelsen
- Council Member Liz Wynn
- Council Member Emmanuel Hernandez Soto
Call to Order Regular Session: 7 p.m.
Pledge of Allegiance
Items of interest
Today’s agenda was approved with no amendments.
Regular Items and Public Hearings
What: A public hearing to consider an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of conditional Use Permit No. 2022-23, a request by Maracor Development to establish a 292-unit deed-restricted affordable multi-family residential development on 10.8 acres in the R-M-2 (Multi-Family Residential, 3,000 square-foot minimum site) zone and the Notice of Exemption that was prepared for the conditional use permit in accordance with the State of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) guidelines Section 15183 (Public Resources Code §21083.3).
- Notice of Exemption No. 2022-51 disclosed that no additional environmental review is required based on the project being consistent with the development density established by the city’s General Plan and based on no further project-specific effects that are peculiar to the project or the site.
Where: The project site is located on the southwest corner of East K avenue and South Ben Maddox Way (APNs: 126-750-050 & 126-750-051)
- Following a brief presentation to the council by staff, it becomes clear that this item is largely unpopular to the residents of Visalia present. To some locals, the new housing complex could result in some undesirable consequences, including:
- Traffic: In regard to K Avenue being insufficiently narrow for the increase in traffic expected with the construction.
- Environmental impact: Some residents report seeing red foxes that could be negatively affected by new development. The Planning Commission has responded to this in the past, and says the wildlife are not native to the area and, thus, are not protected.
- Crime: Many residents were concerned with the potential for increased criminal activity that could come with low-income housing.
- Financial impact: Others still were concerned with the fact that the area in which the development is planned does not have any commercial zones, thus isolating the low-income community.
- Some residents came to voice their concerns to the council directly:
- “We own several homes. We’ve lived in this neighborhood for 20 years… class sizes are over 30 kids per class; they’re already at max.” -Suzy Seja, Visalia resident.
- “New residents will use that street, which poses a traffic hazard.” -Aggrieved citizen.
- “I’m not here about the red fox… these developments were originally intended for small fill-in areas, job-rich, transit-rich areas. There’s no services for anybody there. A Rite-Aid, but that’s it… the unintended consequence is isolating them from what would improve their lives. We’re landlocking them.” -Paul Gilray, Visalia resident.
- “…This fox population has been around for decades… there are indeed foxes on these properties, sir.” – Kelly Clay, Visalia Resident.
- “I don’t think any of you, if your house overlooked this slum, that any of you would vote in favor of it. We don’t want a thousand poor people moving into our area… creating the noise and the crime.” – Rick West, Visalia resident.
- Council members then addressed the public, but some audience members began speaking to the council after public comment had closed. After the second outburst, Mayor Poochigian said he would clear the room.
- “I’m as frustrated as you! … You can say ‘battle Sacramento,’ but Huntington Beach is being sued for not doing a balanced housing plan. Clovis is being sued for their housing plan… Our hands are tied … but I won’t spend city money to defend this against the state of California because we’ll lose. I’d rather use the money to build amenities for our community, for your families.” – Council Member Nelson
- “I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to Mike Smith for the frequent communication… California is in a housing crisis, we need affordable housing… I will be supporting this project.” – Vice Mayor Brett Taylor
- “I live one block from some low-income apartments. The working-class people I’ve met are some of the best people I’ve known. I will be supporting this project.” – Council Member Soto
- After hearing the public’s concerns, the council voted unanimously to pass the motion.
What: First reading and adoption of Ordinance 2023-01, which authorizes the sale of approximately 367 square feet to the state as part of the Caltrans project to rehabilitate State Route 216, Lovers Lane and East Millcreek Parkway.
- After a brief summation to the council, the item was opened for public comment.
- Since most people had left after the vote on the housing project, no public comment was given.
- There was no council discussion; a vote was taken and the motion passed unanimously.
- The Visalia City Council adjourned from the public to convene for closed session at 9:22 p.m. The council meets next on Monday, March 6. For more details on location, times and future agendas, see the Visalia City Council website.
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