An advocacy group for low-income housing is threatening legal action against Stanislaus County, saying new housing guidelines are legally flawed and won't meet the needs of poor people.
"All planning and land use activities taken or contemplated by the county can be challenged as invalid," reads a letter to the county from the California Rural Legal Assistance's Modesto office.
The letter, dated July 19, keys off a Jan. 29 notice from California housing officials demanding that the county revise its new housing element "to comply with state housing element law."
The county changed some parts, but the state Department of Housing and Community Development on July 21 said the changes aren't good enough.
"Further revision is still necessary," wrote Cathy Cres-well, deputy director of the state's housing department.
The CRLA letter cites the state's concerns but is worded more strongly, saying a review produced "several legal deficiencies." It demands that the county revise the document within 60 days.
The July 19 letter was sent on behalf of Ena Lopez, who also is a plaintiff in a separate civil rights lawsuit alleging that Modesto and Stanislaus County have discriminated against predominantly minority neighborhoods.
Arsenio Mataka had reviewed earlier versions of the housing element as a county planning commissioner before leaving the commission last year when he moved to Sacramento. He now commutes to Modesto as a CRLA attorney and wrote the July 19 letter.
Growth policies during the recent housing boom produced so few affordable units that "it's tragic," Mataka said Tuesday.
County: Fix is easy
County Counsel John Doering said: "We think the problems identified can be explained or easily corrected. We think we'll be able to resolve it."
At issue are Regional Housing Needs Assessments, or state-issued housing quotas that cities and counties are supposed to try to meet. Agencies get into trouble when their housing elements don't align with those goals to the state's satisfaction.
A growth-control initiative approved two years ago by voters throughout the county also plays a role in the state's objections.
Measure E, informally known as Stamp Out Sprawl, requires a countywide vote whenever developers want to change agricultural zoning to build homes. State officials asked for details in January and last week said the county's reply was inadequate.
The county also needs better analysis of building sites, including an inventory of suitable locations for apartments and other low- income housing, the letters say.
The housing element needs more information on development fees, potential emergency shelters and evidence that policies encourage builders to produce affordable housing, the letters say. The advocacy group and state want more information on housing for farmworkers and people with disabilities.
In his letter, Mataka takes the county to task for "repeatedly fail(ing) to provide proper infrastructure to the predominantly Latino neighborhoods" in unincorporated areas.
"There are serious fair housing and equitable land use issues raised by the county's disproportionate lack of infrastructure in minority communities," he writes.