State Attorney General Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown, in a letter to Janice Stern, the city's principal planner, has questioned the parts of the Environmental Impact Report that accompanies the draft General Plan and, in effect, the plan, itself.
Of particular concern to Brown is the city's 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 zoned for apartment and home construction, the limit wasn't a problem for state housing authorities.
Since then, however, new housing numbers imposed by the state and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has 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 and market conditions comply.
"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 Urban Habitat and Sandra De Gregorio, a low-income Latina mother and Pleasanton resident. The suit, filed in 2006 and heading to court 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.
Public Advocates, an organization that has joined Urban Habitat in its suit against Pleasanton, 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.
The city did not respond to this invitation, according to Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney at Public Advocates, and so the plaintiffs moved ahead with the suit.
The City Council, at the recommendation of Roush and City Manager Nelson Fialho, decided to contest Public Advocates' bid to overturn the city's housing cap. Pleasanton is one of only a few cities in California with a housing cap, although others are interested in adopting their own, so the case is expected to draw widespread attention throughout the state.
Even so, Brown's objections to the housing cap and his concerns that the General Plan's EIR might not meet all of the provisions in new state measures could delay final approval of the General Plan update. The measures include provisions now required of California cities and counties for climate protection rules on greenhouse gas emissions and a requirement that high density housing be built along transportation corridors, such as BART.
"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.