Yreka sets sights again on competitive state grants to boost city's housing supply

Skip Descant
Special to the Siskiyou Daily News
Quaint historic homes line Miner Street Park in downtown Yreka.

Yreka is making it easier for the city to qualify for state housing grants and other programs intended to advance the development of dwellings in an area significantly lacking in available homes or apartments. 

The city will move forward with applying for a “Prohousing Designation” with the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The program identifies local policies cities should embrace to encourage housing development. The adoption of those policies earns the municipality points, which in turn better positions the city when applying for grants and other housing incentives. 

Many of the housing policies identified in the designation are already part of the city’s housing plan. So the prohousing program would open the door to Yreka getting credit for steps it’s already taking. 

But like virtually any piece of housing or development policy in the city, this one was not without controversy. It passed the City Council on March 21 with a 3-2 vote, with council members Drake Davis and Colleen Baker opposing. The vote was essentially a repeat of the same vote taken in early January when the council took up the Prohouisng Designation. On that evening the vote was 2-2, with Councilman Duane Kegg absent. So the measure failed. At the time, Mayor Corey Middleton and Councilman Paul McCoy pledged to bring the issue back when the full council was present. 

Baker, who repeatedly stressed her “prohousing” stance, has often taken issue with state housing policy, and viewed her vote against the designation as a refute against Sacramento. 

“This is not a state-mandated program,” she said flatly. 

“I just have a personal belief that the state is really overstepping its authority with regard to zoning law and housing regulations, and is just disregarding the unique culture of our city,” said Baker, who did not elaborate on what particular state housing policy she opposes.   

By voting against the measure Baker seemed poised to place roadblocks in the way of Yreka competing for housing grants. 

“I am concerned that state oversight could become overly oppressive for our city,” Baker said later in a follow-up email. “My experience with state grant programs is that they start off with few requirements and as time goes by, there are more and more stringent reporting and tracking requirements for the jurisdictions that result in the need for more and more staff time to administer the grants.”

Davis, who in his brief period on the council, has now voted against housing policy on three occasions, presumably because the city’s policies make room for a range of housings types. 

“I personally think, when we look at the housing development, we really do need to look at the single-family residence development kind of thing,” said Davis. I think, personally, we should continue with that kind of goal, and continue it that way.”

The city’s housing policies do not prevent single-family home developments. And in fact, neither do state policies. However, legislation like SB 9 and SB 10, signed into law in 2021, have been characterized by opponents as eliminating single-family home zoning, a construct of 20th century planning policy often pointed to for accelerating suburban sprawl, housing costs and racial segregation. SB 9 expanded the rights of single-family home owners to develop additional housing on their lots, and SB 10 makes it easier to develop multi-family housing near transit stops. State Sen. Brian Dahle, who represents the region in Sacramento, voted for both bills. 

Baker said she opposes the idea of a home-owner having the OK to put additional units on their property. 

“I don’t like that under SB 9, a property owner in an R1 (residential) zone can build up to four units on a single parcel without going through a public hearing. Additionally, infilling has  the potential of changing the character of our  neighborhoods,” said Baker. 

Channeling the larger philosophical debate around housing in Yreka, and the fears by some residents that the city is working to nefariously whittle down, or eliminate, single-family homes, McCoy tried to settle concerns. 

“Anyone that goes through at our Housing Element will see that what we’re looking at are things that blend in with other homes,” said McCoy to the audience gathered in the council chambers. 

“You’ll also see that we don’t want to put R-3, or R-12, or R-9 next to single-family homes,” he added, using the shorthand for zoning codes that correspond to multi-unit housing zones. 

“The only thing we’re doing is trying to further housing,” said McCoy.