Community and city leaders started updating the Pleasanton General Plan in 2003, a hoped-for three year process that is just now nearing completion and waiting for final approval by the Planning Commission and City Council within the next few weeks.
But now everyone may have to wait a bit longer.
Brian Dolan, Pleasanton's Community Development Director, told a Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce group yesterday that concerns by State Atty. General Jerry Brown over the plan and its accompanying Environmental Impact Report have thrown wrinkles in the city's hopes of finally approving the new General Plan shortly.
In his letter to Janice Stern, the city's principal planner, Brown questioned parts of the EIR and the draft General Plan, itself.
Of particular concern to Brown is the city's continued imposition of a 29,000-unit housing cap, a measure approved by voters when the last General Plan was adopted in 1996.
At the time, with plenty of vacant land available to zone for apartments and home construction, the limit wasn't a problem for state housing authorities. Today, however, with the city nearing buildout under the 29,000-unit limit, there are less than 1,500 residential units left to build.
Since then, new housing numbers imposed by the state and the Association of Bay Area Government (ABAG) also have raised the zoning requirements for more housing, particularly affordable housing for low-to-moderate income families, as the state's population has grown. The state doesn't require that homes be built to accommodate those numbers, only that sufficient land be designated so that the housing can be constructed if developers have an interest in building them and market conditions justify the investment.
"By relying on the Housing Cap as justification for preventing more residential units," Brown states in his letter, "the city ignores its obligation to provide for sufficient housing for the region's growing population. No California locality is immune from the legal and practical necessity to expand housing due to increasing population pressures."
Brown's letter comes as the city is engaged in a lawsuit filed by public advocacy group Urban Habitat and Sandra De Gregorio, a low-income Latina mother and Pleasanton resident. The suit, filed in 2006 and heading to court again on April 8, states that Pleasanton is "an affluent regional job center that has imposed rigid growth control policies that block residential development, particularly the development of affordable family housing."
The suit is being heard in Alameda County Superior Court with a long list of demurrers, continuances and objections already heard by Judge Frank Roesch. The state Court of Appeal recently rejected Pleasanton's plea to dismiss the lower court case. City Atty. Michael Roush and outside counsel Thomas B. Brown are preparing for a case management conference on April 8.
The Urban Habitat suit challenges Pleasanton's policies and practices that it claims exclude housing for low-income families. It focuses in particular on the city's failure to implement a program in its Housing Element that committed the city to rezone 30-40 acres of commercial land for high-density affordable housing, and the city's Housing Cap.
In its suit against Pleasanton, the public housing advocacy group claimed that it served a 14-page demand letter on the city in 2006 and, in August of that year, met with city officials, inviting the city to propose "a concrete and meaningful proposal for addressing the issues raised in the letter."
But, according to Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney for the organization, city officials failed to respond to this invitation and so the plaintiffs moved ahead with the suit.
In a closed-door session two weeks ago with Roush and City Manager Nelson Fialho, the City Council agreed to contest Urban Habitat's suit that seeks to overturn the city's housing cap.
Pleasanton and the city of Davis are the only two cities in California with housing caps although others are interested in adopting their own, so the case is expected to draw widespread attention throughout the state. Cities also use various other means of constraining growth, such as limiting the number of residential building permits that can be issued each year. These restrictions have not been challenged by the attorney general or organizations such as Urban Habitat.
City Manager Fialho said that Brown's objections to the housing cap and his concerns that the General Plan's EIR might not meet other provisions in new state legislative actions could delay final approval of the General Plan update. Those new measures include legislation that requires California cities and counties to impose strict regulations for climate protection rules on greenhouse gas emissions and another requirement that high density housing must be built along transportation corridors, such as BART, whenever possible.
"We are working with the attorney general's office on these issues to work out a solution that is suitable to both the city of Pleasanton and the state," Fialho said.