I am—by nature, upbringing and education—always suspicious that gross corporate greed is lurking behind the decisions of Big Business. So when I read in the Elk Grove Citizen that the Planning Commission might amend Elk Grove’s General Plan in a way that would eliminate some multiple-family dwellings in favor of more single-family homes, my nose started twitching and my antennae went up.
The properties concerned are four adjoining plots in the southwestern part of the stalled Madeira development: Arbor Ranch, McGeary Ranch, Tuscan Ridge, and Zgraggen Ranch. All were in one way or another impacted by the bursting of the housing bubble. Several of them, it seems, were part of the fire sale that was a consequence of developer Reynen & Bardis going belly up.
The new owners are operating in an entirely different housing market. New home building figures are down, due in part to the glut of single family homes that are on the market--and more still coming--from foreclosures and short sales. Elk Grove’s jobs-to-housing imbalance is greater than any city in the Sacramento region, which translates to an overabundance of single-family residences. At the same time, we as a city are not, as I reported , anywhere near fulfilling our mandate to provide affordable housing for all Elk Grove citizens, especially the most vulnerable and poor.
When I first read that the developers of Arbor Ranch and Zgraggen Ranch were applying for a change in zoning so that lot sizes would conform to “the current housing market demands,” I thought ‘Hooray!’ At last a developer was going to pay attention to Elk Grove’s need for affordable housing.
Then I read the Planning Commission’s report further and saw how wrong I was. Instead the builders were asking that the General Plan to be amended so they would not have to build the originally-agreed to 226 “cluster home” lots and 190 “town home” lots, which are low and moderate income housing.
Why? The current housing market demands don’t include that pool of low-income and moderate-income borrowers who, thanks to the sub-prime mortgage business, were once able to qualify to buy cluster homes or townhomes. Those potential purchasers have gone back into the rental market. Since I doubt that what the developers of Arden and Zgraggen Ranches have in mind is creating an enclave of income properties for investors, I think they’re probably looking ahead a couple of years to that magical time when the housing market will be restored at least to “normal” and they can sell their single-family homes for a more-than-decent profit.
I would expect nothing less of developers. They are, after all, in the business of looking after the bottom line, profit margins and the like. But I would hope that the Elk Grove Planning Commission would evince a little more responsibility to the citizens—rich and poor—of Elk Grove, rather than to developers who will for the most part take their profits outside Elk Grove.
The result of eliminating the Medium and High Density Residential from these developments is, in just the Zgraggen Ranch development alone, an addition of over 25 acres of Low Density Residential. Oh, and another one acre of public park. The City of Elk Grove gets whatever monies it collects from permits and the like; the developers get more housing stock that they can sell at a profit eventually; the needy of Elk Grove get—nothing. But hey, as Chief Building Official Rick Renfro reminded us several weeks ago, we’re talking about a free market in which the worth of property is based on whether it is “fully buildable,” i.e., zoned for single family residences. And the discretion to determine that lies totally with the Elk Grove Planning Commission, which will consider this proposal at its Thursday night meeting.
This is the stuff that is fomenting what is being called the American Autumn. Following on from the Arab Spring, thousands of citizens of all ages and political persuasions are taking to the streets in cities large and small all over America to protest the inequity of a entrenched mindset that favors the fortunes of 1 percent of our population at the expense of the other 99 percent. Certainly the proposed General Plan Amendment that would eliminate the Medium and High Density Residential land use designations for these Madeira sites would ultimately be good for the principals and stockholders of the developers involved. But for the rest of us? For the welfare of all Elk Grove? Of that I’m not so sure.