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PALMDALE — The City Council approved a financing mechanism for a project to build medium-income housing at Rancho Vista Boulevard (Avenue P) and 20th Street West, after securing assurances from the developer that it will use local union labor in the construction.

The 3-1 vote by the Council, on Wednesday, came after hearing from more than two dozen union members and representatives about the value of a major construction project like this for local workers.

Local union carpenters, dry wall installers, electricians and others spoke of having to commute to Los Angeles and beyond for work on union projects that provide benefits and the wages that allow them to purchase homes here and support their families.

A local large-scale project, such as the one under consideration, would keep them closer to home and allow them time with their families and to contribute to the community, they said.  

The project will include 380 units, of which 320 are designated for middle-income renters. This will include members of the local workforce, those earning between about $60,000 and $144,000.

“It’s considered a ‘missing middle,’ ” Palmdale Housing Manager Sophia Reyes said, during the Council meeting.

Housing for this category is lacking in the Valley, she said, and would serve not only those who live and work here, but also those who commute to jobs in the Valley, but who have been unable to find suitable housing here.

The remaining 60 units are townhomes that will be offered at market rates.

“(This project) is going to address affordability for people who work … (as) teachers, firefighters, sheriffs (deputies) and so on,” Councilmember Richard Loa said. “We’re faced with the reality that housing has to be provided at all levels.”

The project had been approved by the city previously, but the original developer was unable to obtain the funding to proceed.

The Council’s decision was to allow the sale of bonds through the California Municipal Financing Authority’s Special Finance Agency to fund the project for current developer AMCAL Equities. The city is not responsible for repayment of the bonds.

“It is the operations of the project that takes care of that,” Reyes said.

This project will be the first to use this type of state funding program to build middle-income, workforce housing, City Manager J.J. Murphy said in a briefing, Tuesday.

AMCAL has experience in this type of project and Vice President for Acquistions Frank Chang assured the Council it will have the high-end amenities of the original proposal, if not more.

“For all intents and purpose, this is a market-rate development” in terms of amenities, Chang said. “Rest assured, this will be the nicest project in Palmdale.”

Councilmember Juan Carrillo supported the project in part for the local jobs it would provide.

“I have a lot in common with what the speakers said tonight,” Carrillo said, becoming emotional as he spoke. “I know what it’s like to get up at four in the morning and drive two hours, come home and not be able to see my children.”

The Council debated at length whether to require the developer to agree to use the city’s Community Workforce Agreement, which outlines requirements for union labor with an emphasis on local workers.

The Agreement pertains to city projects, specifically public works projects, City Attorney Christopher Beck said.

Requiring adherence to the Agreement could also interfere with obtaining the CMFA funding, he said.

Loa wanted approval to be contingent on using the Community Workforce Agreement, while Bettencourt contended that an assurance by the developer to continue working with the unions would better ensure the project is not delayed.

“I absolutely support this project. We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is,” Bettencourt said.

Carrillo agreed that the requirement for a private entity to follow the city’s Community Workforce Agreement could drive away future development.

Change said his firm has been in discussions with the trade unions and will continue to do so.

“We will be working closely with the trades,” he said. “Whatever the City Council would like us to do, AMCAL will do to get this project done.”

Ultimately, the Council approval included instructions to Beck to prepare a labor agreement that is similar to the city’s to apply to the project.

Of the 30 or so comments heard during the meeting, only one was against the project going forward. A property owner in the area erroneously called it low-income housing and said it would lower property values. She also stated the project had been originally proposed as something else and had been switched.

Carrillo also cited an email he had received opposing the project, calling it a “horror” and that proponents want to “inflict this nightmare” on the area.

He noted that housing is needed across the city and that low-income housing projects have been approved on the city’s east side.

The project will provide much-needed housing stock for those members of the workforce, including teachers and others, who cannot find quality housing in their price range, Carrillo said.

“I’m proud to support this project and the workers who are going to build it,” he said.  

Mayor Steve Hofbauer recused himself from the discussion and vote, citing communications with one of the parties that required him to do so.

“I know it’s an election year, so the mayor doesn’t want to be involved in this,” Mayor Pro Tem Laura Bettencourt said, taking control of the meeting for the item when Hofbauer left.

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