Pleasanton Weekly

News - August 20, 2010

Council signs off on agreement to scuttle housing cap

Unanimous vote also authorizes legal payments of $1.9 million to housing coalitions

by Jeb Bing

The Pleasanton City Council agreed Tuesday to pay $1.9 million in legal fees to two affordable housing coalitions in a 4-0 vote that also scuttled the city's voter-approved 1996 housing cap that was designed to prevent runaway residential growth.

With the vote, the council authorized the first payment of $995,000 from its "Self-Insurance Retention" fund as the first of two installments totaling $1.9 million in taxpayer funds to cover legal fees incurred by Urban Habitat and Public Advocates, who first sued the city in 2006 over affordable housing issues, including the cap.

Last March, Judge Frank Roesch of the Alameda County Superior Court ruled in favor of the housing coalitions and ordered Pleasanton to strip the housing cap from its rule books.

Attorney Tom Brown, who was hired as outside counsel to represent Pleasanton in the litigation -- and whose firm also was paid $500,000 for its services -- told the council that the legal battle saw early successes for the city in early Superior Court rulings, but then lost on appeal to both the State Court of Appeal and the State Supreme Court, with the case ultimately being decided by Roesch.

Attorney General Jerry Brown also sued the city over its new General Plan that included the housing cap and joined the affordable housing coalitions in their Superior Court suit.

The settlement agreed to Tuesday ends all litigation against the city over these issues with Brown's office also agreeing to waive any claims against the city for reimbursement of its legal expenses.

It also removes a ruling by Roesch that had prevented Pleasanton from issuing any commercial building permits until the negotiations had been successfully completed or the city had appealed his decision. With little commercial development under way in the current economy, the ruling had no impact on Pleasanton although some investors had expressed concerns if the ban lasted much longer.

The settlement brought groans from the four council members but they also said they had little choice in settling litigation that Attorney Tom Brown and other legal experts said would likely become much more costly if an appeal was filed with little chance of winning the case. Mayor Jennifer Hosterman was on vacation Tuesday and did not join in the final council vote.

In ruling against Pleasanton, Roesch agreed with the two housing coalitions that the housing cap violated state law and prevented the city from accommodating its regional "fair share" housing needs assessment numbers (RHNA) as mandated by the state. In response, and as part of the settlement, the city agreed to rezone additional acreage of available land for high density housing -- apartments and town houses up to 30 units per acre. That process is now under way in a section of Hacienda Business Park.

The housing cap of 29,000 units was adopted in 1996 by voters at the recommendation of the late Mayor Ben Tarver, former Mayor Tom Pico and others on the City Council at the time. Pico said it was an arbitrary figure that allowed the city and school district to plan ahead for serving residential needs as the city reached build out.

The latest figures reported by the city show that 27,000 apartments and homes have been built in Pleasanton with few requests for additional housing in the current building downturn. That could change and Urban Habitat representatives convinced Roesch that the cap would prevent the city from building sufficient housing in the future to accommodate its state-imposed share of low-income, affordable and workforce housing.

Councilwoman Cindy McGovern said the housing cap was put in place with good intentions by Pleasanton voters who wanted to keep the small town appeal and not overwhelm the city with more traffic than it can handle or exceed the planned limits on water and sewer capacity.

"I attended the court hearings and sat in on the discussions with the affordable housing groups," she said. "It became clear to me that local laws are now being superseded by state laws and that we would have to find an agreement that satisfied everyone while still maintaining local control."

Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio said that the housing cap was probably consistent at the time with the view of the public to limit the number of homes that could eventually be built in Pleasanton.

"None of us wants to see unbridled growth in our city and now we have to keep our eye on the ball and focus on retaining as much local control as possible," she said.

But City Manager Nelson Fialho said the city's Growth Management provision remains in place, which limits the number of housing permits each year to no more than 350 units. That number has not been issued in years, he said.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2010 at 10:01 am

Just remember: Jerry Brown is running for governor and he is the one that sued Pleasanton over this low income housing stuff.

Vote for anyone else, but do NOT vote for Brown. Imagine what he will do to California if elected!

Posted by Bowler, a resident of Pleasanton Middle School
on Aug 20, 2010 at 11:12 am

Pleasanton was in violation of state law. Jerry Brown was doing his job when he signed on to the suit which had been filed by a non-profit housing advocacy group.

Brown is not the one to blame here.

Posted by Parent of Two, a resident of Val Vista
on Aug 20, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Parent of Two is a registered user.

So what was Jerry Brown doing for the rest of his time in office? This was just a way for Jerry Brown to stick it to Pleasanton in order to prop himself up for the "low-income" advocates that make up his voting bloc. He chose Pleasanton because he knows that the Gray Davis-appointed judge in this district (Roesch) will rubber stamp any of his lawsuits that favor the left-wing.

Others have mentioned other areas that haven't been sued by AttorneyGeneral Moonbeam... that's because the judges in those areas aren't as sympathetic to Jerry Brown's social engineering agenda.

If Jerry Brown was "doing his job", we'd be prosecuting illegal immigrants rather than forcing crime-free communities to lower their standards.

Posted by Bowler, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2010 at 2:48 pm

To answer Parent of Two's question, what Brown has done for Californians this month alone:

1. He charged 15 individuals with tobacco smuggling and tax evasion schemes that diverted some $34 million from state and county health care programs and the state's general fund. The three-year investigation has uncovered "rampant fraud" among tobacco distributors with estimated tax losses totaling more than $80 million.

2. With DNA evidence that was processed in the state's crime lab, which Brown oversees, the serial Westside Rapist John Floyd Thomas, Jr. was apprehended. Some of the cases date back to 1972.

3. Brown negotiated the closure and a half-million-dollar settlement with the operator of a sham nursing school in Los Angeles that falsely offered an accelerated accredited nursing program and tricked graduates into believing they had qualified to become registered nurses.

4. Continuing the state's fight to reduce children's exposure to lead, Brown negotiated a settlement that requires two of the largest makers and installers of artificial turf to eliminate nearly all lead from their products. One of these companies was the producer of the artificial turf installed at Amador a few years back.

The list of other advances from his office just this month, and every month, is long and complicated. He represents the legal interests of 36 million Californians, or 1 out of every 8 Americans. If you think he somehow had time to target Pleasanton, get real.

So, Parent of Two, what have you done this month that has more impact on more people?

Oh yeah, prosecuting illegal immigrants is not part of his job.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Aug 20, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

I agree with Parent of Two.

There are quite a few other municipalities around the State that flaunt housing element law (Web Link). Pleasanton merely provided an opportunity because 1) the hard cap on housing units was so easy to fight, 2) there was already a lawsuit, all Brown had to do was sign on with it.

Just for example, a review of Atherton's housing element: Web Link

Posted by Jack, a resident of Downtown
on Aug 20, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Once upon a time, there was a quaint little village of people. They were so proud of their little community that they wanted to give it the perfect name, Perfectville. Well, Perfectville was already taken, so they settled for Pleasanton. In the 1990's Pleasanton was so perfect that its good people wanted to freeze it in time, and keep it just the way it was, forever! So they got together and wrote up a document they called their "Housing Cap." And in a sinister twist, they wanted to put it before their brother and sister voters, who, guess what? all have one thing in common; they already have a house in Pleasanton! Who would? Who could vote against it? It was the most perfectly pleasant plan ever prepared! And it passed positively!!!
Then, about 15 years later in 2010, a judge, in a court of law actually took a look at Pleasanton's Housing Cap,and he said, "People of Pleasanton you puzzle me, the perfectly pleasant plan you prepared is...

Posted by Resident, a resident of Stoneridge Park
on Aug 22, 2010 at 7:28 am

I'm glad the City settled. I'd like to see a copy of the settlement. According to previous articles, there are some 3,000 housing units Pleasanton needs to build only to meet the 2007 RHNA numbers. We are still behind another 2,000 or so. Are all of these going to go in my neighborhood next to BART as a TOD? Does anybody even consider the number of low income units that are supposed to be built? I am not sure about our City Manager's comment that ...only 350 units can be built per year. Will the State allow us to take over 10 years just to reach 2007 numbers? Can the leaders of this City illuminate us? We may not stay on the "Best Places to Live" list.

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