Housing cap settlement: What they saidPleasanton City Council members reluctantly signed off Tuesday on a settlement agreement that dismisses several lawsuits filed against the city over affordable and adequate workforce housing issues, scuttles a voter-mandated 1996 housing cap, and awards $1.9 million in legal fees to the two affordable housing coalitions that successfully sued the city in the first place. Another $500,000 already has been paid to the outside legal counsel Tom Brown, who defended the city during the four-year-long litigation.
Although the settlement ends the city's legal challenges over its housing policies, it now requires prompt action in providing more high-density housing specifically targeted to low-income tenants and more apartments and homes to meet state requirements under its "fair share" allotment of workforce housing. Although the council voted 4-0 to accept the settlement (Mayor Jennifer Hosterman was on vacation Tuesday and did not vote), members expressed strong opinions about their action. A summary of their comments follows:
* Vice Mayor Jerry Thorne: I believe this is the best agreement we could have under the circumstances. To continue the litigation would have put us in a big black hole. However, I have continuing concern that the state is seizing control over local land issues. I fully intend to do everything that I can working with the League of California Cities and the other 18 boards and commissions that I sit on to preserve and defend our right for local control over land use issues. All of us need to be tough with our state legislators to make sure they are doing everything they can to preserve local control.
* Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio: No one likes to be told what to do and here we have the state and the courts telling us just that. Even though we have lost our housing cap, I think we are going to be smarter and more creative to successfully look at housing units and how they are going to be allocated. We have not lost the ability to control growth so this does not adversely impact our quality of life. We should also note that there are three state Assembly members representing Pleasanton, which means that there are possibly three votes on issues this community favors.
* Councilwoman Cindy McGovern: I took comfort in knowing we had a housing cap in place that would keep our community smaller, that we could use as a way to sustain the community, to spare us from endless growth, to keep our police and fire departments strong and adequate. Maybe some poor choices were made along the way with the type of housing that was built but growth management at no more than 350 units a year has been adequate for development. I now realize that the state continues to take away local housing control and it's not stopping. We need to assure people that we are looking at ways of controlling growth in order to keep our city as nice as it is today.
* Councilman Matt Sullivan: It wasn't the City Council that put the housing cap in place; it was the voters saying this is what they wanted. My first reaction was to appeal this. For a court to strip away our control of local land use, which is something I strongly believe in, especially when voters said this is what they want, goes against my belief to accept this. But as we (the council) got into this and understood the issues more thoroughly and the limited action we could take on appeal, I came to realize that an appeal would be very difficult and expensive. If we lost on appeal, our city could have been faced with decisions the community didn't want.
We're looking at a type of housing (in Hacienda Business Park) that we haven't seen much in Pleasanton in the past. This agreement gives us some discretion with the decisions of the Hacienda housing task force that the community and council can weigh in on. We will be able to assure we have environmental standards in place, and that the community can referend this project if it isn't acceptable.
I am not happy with this whole thing. I think it's an example of the state and other people, especially with the Attorney General weighing in, continuing to pre-empt local decision-making authority in many types of ways, especially related to housing activities. Still, based on the circumstances we found ourselves in, I believe that we are much better off with this (agreement) than had just the court ruling been implemented.