Affordable housing in the form of Amcal’s “shovel ready” 64-unit project on East First Street never stood a chance before the SanTana city council last night, even as the meeting stretched into 1 a.m.. Back in April 2016, council approved Heritage Village, the city’s largest mixed-used residential development, by the 55 freeway on the condition it would pay nearly $10 million at once to “opt-out” of building affordable housing units. Under the Housing Opportunities Ordinance (HOO), the money would go to Amcal, but everything changed after that.
Heritage developer Ryan Ogulnick started petitioning the planning commission for delayed payments last summer, whether by changing the HOO or amending his development agreement. The commission didn’t go for either option, but city council approved phased payments in late December. And they did so while splitting the question of whether to provide city loans to Amcal into a separate vote, setting the table for last night’s drama.
Affordable housing advocates braved the long meeting to deliver their support for Amcal as the clock neared midnight. “I wish I were here today applauding the 180 affordable units that would be going into the Heritage Village development but I am not,” said Nancy Mejia, Director of Community Engagement and Advocacy for Latino Health Access. “I wish I were applauding the $10 million going into the Housing Opportunities fund up front as the ordinance requires.” But Mejia wasn’t, and the best she could hope for was the approval of a $2.6 million Housing Fund and $6.2 million Housing Successor Agency loan to pitch hit for Heritage’s phased payments.
“It isn’t just the many steps backwards they have taken in Washington, it’s what we choose to do here,” followed Ana Urzua, campaign coordinator for Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities, in calling out the hypocrisy of the council’s anti-Trump stances. “You will be remembered for [your] actions during these times.”
After public comment, Ogulnick and Amcal Vice President of Development Mario Turner—a former commissioner for the city’s Housing & Redevelopment and Planning commissions—walked together to share the podium, though their development fates had already been split. “It’s been over two years now and we’re ready,” Turner declared. “We should be in construction right now. The request about Heritage being phased is causing delays but hopefully tonight you’d support us and we can move forward.”
Amcal’s plans include 3-4 bedroom units at affordable rates. Half of all units will be extremely low-income, a plan advocates hailed as “unprecedented.”
Ogulnick’s first concern was to combat any negativity surrounding his project. “Without the Heritage, there is no Amcal,” the developer claimed. But he also supported the subsidy amount that became grounds for debate behind closed doors leading up to the vote.
“Initially, without no Amcal, there’s no Heritage,” countered councilman Vincente Sarmiento to applause. “One of the reasons why the Heritage went forward is because we allowed you and gave you the opportunity to opt-out.” In response to questions about the size of the loans, Sarmiento claimed that the city would have close to $11 million for affordable housing after Amcal’s funding.
“I don’t care about the political reasons,” councilman Sal Tinajero later stated. “Let’s build the gosh-darn project.” The audience broke into applause again, but the joy didn’t last long. Councilman Jose Solorio followed by blabbering about hiring a consultant to do a “gap analysis” or forming an ad hoc committee that he’d happily volunteer to serve on. Why?
“There might be enough there to give a honest look at what the subsidy need for this Amcal project might be,” Solorio said, citing other affordable housing projects in queue. “Internally and externally, there’s been a lot of question on whether this subsidy amount might be too much.”
Turner reminded Solorio that the city already hired a financial consultant who produced a 14-page analysis concluding that “the requested amount is justified.” Amcal’s Vice President then offered to have Amcal make a less competitive application for tax credits in March instead of July without Heritage’s first-phase payment of $2.6 million that won’t come until April.
While Turner made his case, councilman Sarmiento walked away from his seat and began chatting with city attorney Sonia Carvalho. “Can we have a little bit of decorum, please” Solorio whined. Sarmiento’s side chat continued until Mayor Miguel Pulido declared a five-minute recess.
When the meeting reconvened after a lengthier break, council voted to create Solorio’s ad hoc committee and declined Amcal’s offer—all while santaneros continue to live in overcrowded conditions in apartments like the one Solorio conveniently rented to run for his Ward 3 seat.