Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - September 17, 2010

Pleasanton's new housing plan: Getting it right this time

Just a month after settling an affordable housing lawsuit that included scuttling its 1996 voter-mandated, 29,000-unit housing cap, Pleasanton is now working to develop a new "housing element" that will meet state requirements. It has just nine months to identify and rezone available land that would make it possible for developers of nonprofit, affordable housing to successfully build and provide high density housing for low and very-low income tenants. To meet the deadline and ensure that the new plan would likely meet state specifications, the City Council last week approved hiring Baird & Driskell Community Planning for $100,000 to research and revise a plan that city staff last updated in 2003. That plan recommended some areas for consideration for affordable housing, but the plan had only token follow through until earlier this year when a suit by Urban Habitat neared a final decision in the Alameda County Superior Court. Guessing correctly that the city was woefully short of the housing numbers imposed by the state, it agreed to rezone land in Hacienda Business Park for high density housing and appointed a 20-member Hacienda Task Force to review the suggested plans by three developers and provide guidance to the council. Meanwhile, the city must move quickly to update its 2003 plan to meet a court deadline of next August.

Consultant Jeff Baird and his consulting agency should be able to the job. The firm has almost 30 years of general plan and housing element experience with scores of communities throughout the state. These have included Corte Madera, San Rafael, San Mateo, Marin County and the town of Ross. Recent work handled by Baird & Driskell included the downtown specific plan for San Mateo and a land use study and plan for the city of Davis. Those plans combined smart growth with transportation linkages, design and identity strategies to include long-term vibrant neighborhoods in those areas. Pleasanton's housing element will incorporate similar features in the new 800-unit-plus apartment and town home developments planned in Hacienda, which will be close to the BART station and access to freeways with a minimal use of city streets to reach them.

While the Hacienda Task Force speeds up its work to complete a viable plan for that project, the council, in addition to hiring Baird & Driskell, also approved the formation of an 11-member ad hoc Housing Element Task Force to work with the consultant in updating the 2003 housing element. That plan, by the way, languished while another group worked on updating the city's 1996 General Plan, once viewed as a three-year effort that was finally completed last fall. In the meantime, Cathy Creswell, deputy director of the California Department of Housing Community Development, rejected the 2003 plan when it was clear there would be no follow-through on its recommendations. She subsequently decertified the document so it's likely Baird & Driskell will be providing the council with a brand new housing element, not an update.

Given the firm's success in writing acceptable plans for other cities that meet state requirements, Pleasanton should have one by mid-2011 that the state will approve. It doesn't hurt that Jeff Baird has a long working relationship with Ms. Creswell, including teaching courses on Housing Element requirements and best practices with her at UC Davis.

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