Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - March 19, 2010


A better city without a housing cap

Pleasanton's 14 year gamble as the only California city with a fixed limit on how many housing units can be built here has come to an end. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch this week invalidated the law, which was enacted by a favorable vote of some 80 percent of those voting on the measure in 1996. At the time, some officials said the housing cap was needed to meet the ultimate capacity of water and sewer lines being built to serve the city or the streets that were being planned to handle the expected traffic. Actually, it was for none of those reasons as former Mayor Tom Pico later said. It was just a seemingly logical cap that would keep Pleasanton from becoming too big or too populated.

Logical or not, it worked and much of Pleasanton is now developed according to those artificial specifications that Judge Roesch, the Urban Habitat affordable housing advocate group, and Attorney General Jerry Brown contend is unfair. With the Association of Bay Area Government (ABAG) saying that Pleasanton needs at least another 4,000 housing units to serve its ambitious and growing business workforce population, opponents of the cap accused the city of ignoring its obligation to provide sufficient housing for the tens of thousands who work here but can't afford to live in Pleasanton.

Without the cap and the earlier growth management controls that slowed development during the building surges of the 1980s and 1990s, 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 to a pace most in the community believe has enhanced the quality of life.

Still in place is the 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 the 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.

The concerns of Urban Habitat and Atty. General Brown have more to do with Pleasanton's reluctance to rezone enough land to accommodate more housing, not to actually build the housing units unless developers see a market here for more affordable housing. Urban Habitat's lawsuit was specific: it wanted the housing cap removed so that more land could be rezoned without infringing on the city's self-imposed housing unit limit.

The question for the City Council now is how much time and money in legal action the city should spend in battling the court's decision 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. We hope the council will decide to let the decision stand and instead host a series of meetings with Urban Habitat and its leaders, the community at large and the often vocal number of affordable housing advocates who live here over what steps can be taken to get on with the job of providing ample housing to meet the needs of those who also want the benefit of living in Pleasanton near the rapid transit hub this city has become and in Hacienda Business Park, still one of the largest business parks of its kind west of the Mississippi. Living near where we work is a goal most of us pursue. As a city we should help make that happen for our workforce.


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