Pleasanton's 29,000-unit housing cap, approved by voters in 1996, is under attack, both in the courts by an affordable housing coalition and by state housing authorities, including California Atty. General Jerry Brown because it now blocks the number of homes that can be built here where 27,500 already are in the ground or approved.
Brown argues that by enforcing the cap, Pleasanton is ignoring "its obligation to provide for sufficient housing for the region's growing population." The San Francisco-based Urban Habitat Program, a nonprofit organization that supports more construction of homes for those with very low to moderately low incomes, is asking Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch to nullify the Pleasanton cap as discriminatory to those who otherwise might find homes in the community.
Interestingly, the 29,000-cap had nothing to do with buyers' or renters' incomes or even the capacity of sewers, water or streets to handle a specific population, although most residents believe that was the reason for it.
Former Mayor Tom Pico, one of a many in leadership positions who supported Measure GG in the Nov. 5, 1996 vote on several municipal issues, grabbed the number out of the blue from numbers higher and lower at the time. All were concerned with the rapid growth of Pleasanton, which in the 1980s was the fastest growing community in the Bay Area, and plans by developers for more houses and apartments. More than 700 homes were being considered for the Vineyard Corridor before then Mayor Ben Tarver persuaded the authors of the 1996 General Plan update to trim it to much less.
Earlier, open space in Happy Valley where the Callippe Preserve Golf Course is now located, was eyed by Alameda County planners for hundreds of high-density apartment units and even a road across the hills to connect to Vallecitos Road near the GE nuclear plant. Even earlier, there was talk of annexing into Pleasanton unincorporated land that abuts Sunol.
By the time voters went to the polls in 1996, they said enough was enough and voted in the arbitrary housing cap with 17,388 in favor against 5,710 voting against. By almost identical numbers, voters also approved Measure FF, the Urban Growth Boundary measure that has ever since defined the city limits and restricted growth beyond those borders.
Without these controls, Pleasanton today would likely have a population well above 100,000, with homes and apartments pressing against the municipal borders on all sides with high density housing on the south side of I-580 looking much like what we see in Dublin across the freeway.
So it's clear that the housing cap did what was intended: slow down but not stop the development frenzy of the 1980s and early 1990s to a pace most in the community believe has enhanced the quality of life.
Even more limiting was the city's subsequent Growth Management ordinance, which has limited the number of new housing permits to 350 a year, another arbitrary number that, although not necessary in today's depressed building market, has also stopped runaway growth that we have seen in neighboring communities. These self-imposed development restrictions have also affected future growth planning, especially in the school district which has now based its future classroom needs on the 29,000-unit housing cap.
Atty. General Brown's and state housing authority concerns over the housing cap have more to do with Pleasanton's ability to rezone enough land to accommodate more housing, not to actually build the housing until and unless developers see a market here for more affordable housing. Urban Habitat's lawsuit is more specific: it wants the housing cap removed.
Either way, Pleasanton would be able to continue controlling growth by limiting the number of permits issued (it could even drop the number to 50 or 100), a right no one is contesting.
The question for the City Council now is how much time and money in legal action the city should spend in battling Urban Habitat in the courts over a housing cap that (1) was arbitrary from the start and (2) may no longer be needed with the city largely built out and still in full control of limiting residential growth.
To view Atty. General Brown's letter, click here