The Cambrian

Cambria affordable housing project faces more appeals — this time to the Coastal Commission

Three appeals have been filed with the California Coastal Commission against an approved county permit for an affordable housing project in Cambria.

The Peoples’ Self-Help Housing project would provide nearly three dozen affordable-housing apartments on Schoolhouse Lane. Cambria residents Mary Webb, Christine Heinrichs and Leslie Richards filed their appeals with the commission on May 13. All three testified against the permit during an April 23 county supervisors’ hearing.

That hearing considered appeals Webb and Heinrichs had filed opposing the planning commission’s January approval of the project. The supervisors unanimously denied the appeals.

Now, it’s in the lap of the Coastal Commission. While each appeal was filed separately and each appellant described various concerns about the project, the women share at least one core issue: Cambria’s supply of water, which they believe is insufficient to serve the new development.

“Cambria’s water supply is inadequate to support existing development in the community,” Webb wrote in her appeal.

The county’s staff report says water for the project would be provided by the CSD’s retrofit points, or water demand offset program that gives credit for plumbing retrofits to developers such as Peoples’ Self Help.

The appellants say that program doesn’t work and that the number crunching provides more water on paper only. Some of the other issues the women cited in their appeals were:

• Increased fire-safety concerns and the impact on Cambria’s rare native Monterey pine forest.

• Traffic concerns and the problems of adding more multi-family housing to a dead-end street that also includes another Self-Help apartment complex and Santa Lucia Middle School.

No date has been set yet for the Coastal Commission’s hearing on the appeals.

The project and the need

The long-planned but reconfigured Cambria Pines Apartments development would include 33 units in eight buildings on 2.04 acres of a 5.88-acre parcel. The project would be built near the town’s middle school and the similar Peoples’ Self-Help Housing Schoolhouse Lane Apartment complex that’s been renting affordable-housing 24 apartments since 1997.

There’s no doubt that the need is urgent for affordable housing in pricey Cambria, where tourism- and service-related industries rely on lower-wage employees, and where many senior citizens are more able to age comfortably at home with the assistance of low-income health aides, household help and landscapers.

The appellants acknowledge the need for affordable housing, but say the town’s lack of water takes priority. Webb and Heinrichs told county supervisors that if the issues were solved, they’d certainly support having more Cambria housing for low-income families.

Water concerns

When the services district approved in 2001 the moratorium on issuing new water connection, a moratorium that’s still in force, they set aside a certain amount of water for affordable housing.

It’s under that agreement that the district issued an intent-to-serve letter for the project. The district, which provides water, sewage treatment, parks and other services, installed in 2014 an emergency water supply project inspired in part by the severe statewide drought.

The district doesn’t yet have a permit to operate the plant and provide water from it on a permanent basis, but CSD officials have been working toward getting that permit. The plant, now renamed the Sustainable Water Facility, is near San Simeon Creek and lagoon, and is close to the San Simeon State Park campgrounds and Richards’ residence and business.

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