During a report on the Half Moon Bay City Council’s priorities for fiscal years 2021-23, an important detail came to light for one of the council’s long-sought-after goals.

When the staff report stated affordable housing was one of five priorities listed for the coming years, council members voiced their approval. They also said they were frustrated at the glacial rate of progress toward what is a perennial priority.

That could change due to one aspect of the city’s new Local Coastal Land Use Plan, according to Community Development Director Jill Ekas. She told council members that in the process of updating the plan earlier this year, city staff and the Coastside County Water District, which serves Miramar, El Granada and Princeton and Half Moon Bay, collaborated to designate water connections for below-market affordable housing as a Local Priority Use. That means developers are able to buy connections for much lower rates than previously possible.

“By affirmatively identifying affordable housing as a local priority land use in Half Moon Bay, the door is now open for affordable housing developers to acquire water connections dedicated for affordable housing at a much lower rate than the non-priority water connections,” Ekas wrote in an email to the Review.

Mary Rogren, the general manager of CCWD, said the district has 372 priority connections that can be sold to the city or county. The city and the district still need to figure out how certain projects would qualify.

“Those processes still need to be discussed with the city as to when those affordable housing connections can be used,” Rogren said.

The California Coastal Commission limits water districts’ ability to sell connections by dividing development into various tiers, including Coastal Act and Local Priority uses (agriculture, coastal access and recreation) and nonpriority uses (market-rate residential, general commercial).

It’s difficult to get affordable housing water connections on the Coastside for a number of reasons, Ekas noted. The commission in 1981 removed affordable housing as a priority land use from the Coastal Act. Additionally, the CCWD had limited connections because of its Crystal Springs Water Supply Project. With very few exceptions, the district does not have any nonpriority connections available, said Rogren. As a result, presold nonpriority connections for new development are more expensive in the open market, going for upward of $100,000.

Now, the CCWD can sell affordable housing connections for $16,000.

The land use plan estimates that 200 are available from the CCWD’s service area, though Rogren noted that number will be reexamined.

“Both CCWD and the Coastal Commission were very supportive of this resolution during the LUP update process,” Ekas said. “This represents a significant policy change from the previous LUP, which did not make this clarification for affordable housing as a local priority land use.”

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