Island Company and Avalon are discussing workforce housing

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Water and housing are the two top priorities of the Avalon City Council.

City officials and the Santa Catalina Island Company are currently in talks to develop a non-binding agreement to develop workforce housing in Avalon. According to City Manager David Jinkens, the “memorandum of understanding” would build the framework for creating a formal agreement that would take another six months to complete.

Water and housing are the two top priorities of the Avalon City Council.

City officials and the Santa Catalina Island Company are currently in talks to develop a non-binding agreement to develop workforce housing in Avalon. According to City Manager David Jinkens, the “memorandum of understanding” would build the framework for creating a formal agreement that would take another six months to complete.

At a recent council meeting, residents and council members raised concerns about whether the city’s infrastructure can support more people and whether there is enough water for people to drink.

The city has $4 million in housing funds that were left over when the state disbanded redevelopment agencies. The Island Company has land to develop.

Jinkens said every employer on Catalina Island has housing needs. However, the city needs to negotiate with the Island Company because the company owns most of the private land in Avalon.

The Island Company’s pervasive property ownership has created an unusual complication for developing the memorandum of understanding: four of the five council members have a potential conflict of interest because of the locations of their businesses. The council members recently cut cards and selected Mayor Annie Marshal and Councilman Oley Olsen to represent the city in talks with the Island Company. But because no prior notice was given, at least two residents raised the question of a possible violation of the Brown Act at last week’s council meeting. Even so, the council voted to accept the results of the card drawing.

While the Island Company needs housing for employees, the rules the city of Avalon must operate under requires that 20 percent of developed housing qualifies as “affordable.”

Department of Housing and Urban Development defines affordable housing as one that costs no more than 30 percent of your income, including utilities.

Residents and council members have raised concerns about whether the city’s drinking water supply can support additional housing. Jinkens said by and large, the city has the water supply it needs on most days. There are two desalination plants serving the island and one of them is usually running every day.

He said the city is supporting Southern California Edison’s proposal to make $23 million in upgrades to the desalination system.  Part of that upgrade would include increasing the system’s storage capacity for fresh water.

Jinkens said if the city waits until the water issue is resolved, it could take two more years to develop housing.

He said if the city wants to be serious about housing, the city has to get the planning process going.

According to an October staff report, “The potential is to deliver up to 200 units of new workforce and affordable housing to meet [the] critical housing needs of Avalon.”

According to Avalon’s 2030 General Plan, from 2013 to 2021, the city will need to provide sites for 80 housing units. The state-mandated formula, called the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, calls for “20 extremely low/very low income units; 12 low income units; 14 moderate income units; and 34 above moderate income units.”

Median income in Avalon is $42,000 a year, according to a city-commissioned study done by Michael Baker International. The term “median” means that figure was in the middle of the incomes provided by participants in the study. The US Census American Community Survey put the median at slightly more than $54,000, with a margin for error of plus or minus $9,800. According to the Baker International Survey, about 66 percent of the Island’s population are renters and their median income is more than $32,000 a year.

This week, Jinkens said that the Island Company would replace some housing units that have outlived their time and that the city would probably net 50 new units in the Las Casitas housing project.

According to an October staff report, C&C Development, the city’s affordable housing consultant, looked for potential locations of 50 affordable homes.

According to the staff report, the Upper Tremont area will be developed for affordable year-round housing, the Las Casitas Project will be primarily for affordable housing for full time Island Company employees already living on the Island, the Island Company will develop a new water source in Avalon Canyon. Half of that water would be for Island Company housing and half for uses inside the city limits.

Some issues that remain to be determined include the exact footprints for the Upper Tremont and Las Casitas projects as well as sharing of costs for traffic, storm drain, sewer and water improvements at Five Corners. Those improvements would serve both housing projects, according to the staff report.

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