Council approves plan to scuttle housing cap, open up more land for low-income housing
Thorne warns state taking control away from cities on land use decisions
The City Council on Tuesday approved a tentative settlement agreement with two affordable housing coalitions and the state attorney general's office that will scuttle Pleasanton's 29,000-unit housing cap and set aside undeveloped acreage for high density housing for low-income residents.
The council also agreed to pay fees to the housing coalition attorneys totaling $1.9 million in two installments. With the settlement agreement in place, Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown agreed to waive the costs incurred by his office in suing the city and in joining in arguments on behalf of the housing coalitions.
The settlement comes after a March 12 ruling by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch that found the 1996 housing cap in violation of state law. He barred Pleasanton from issuing any non-residential building permits until a settlement was reached or the city decided to appeal his verdict. That ban is expected to be lifted at the council's meeting on Aug. 17 when the final settlement is approved.
The dispute dates back to November 2006 when Urban Habitat and Public Advocates filed a lawsuit against Pleasanton claiming that various city policies and ordinances were hindering the development of affordable housing in the city. In its suit, joined later by Brown, the groups claimed that the housing cap, which was approved by voters by an 80 percent margin, prevented Pleasanton from meeting its "fair share" housing numbers set by the state's Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).
Pleasanton's outside legal counsel Tom Brown, who defended the city against the lawsuits, said most if not all of the state's housing requirements referenced in the suits did not exist in 1996 when the housing cap was imposed.
Although approving the settlement agreement Tuesday night, Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and three council members criticized the law and what they called the state's power grab over local laws affecting land use zoning.
Councilman Jerry Thorne, who represents Pleasanton on the League of California Cities, accused the state of "systematically removing all local control over land uses by the cities," and said cities up and down the state are upset.
"When you look at the RHNA requirement imposed by the legislature, you find that not one single individual in our state legislature has ever been elected to make land use decisions," he said. "Even at ABAG, there's not one person there who has ever handled land use planning in Pleasanton, yet they're making these decisions."
Noting that the agreement requires Pleasanton to accommodate a larger population of low-income residents, he said that neither the courts, legislature nor county have looked at the social infrastructure required to serve this residents. That responsibility apparently will fall to nonprofit groups that may also be unprepared for the task, he said.
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."
Hosterman recalled that as a younger woman in 1996 with little children at home, she was among those who supported the housing cap "to assure that our city maintain its wonderful character and small town feel."
"I think the judge's decision was wrong," she added. "But rather than spend more money on attorneys' fees, we realized it was time to move on and creatively plan for the future of our town."
Thorne urged voters to discuss the state's "out of control" housing requirements with their candidates for State Legislature before voting Nov. 2.