Making housing affordable in San Ramon | The Observer | Roz Rogoff | |

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By Roz Rogoff

Making housing affordable in San Ramon

Uploaded: Feb 6, 2011

Housing prices in San Ramon and surrounding cities are very high. Even with the housing crisis, San Ramon is an expensive place to live. I moved here for a job in 1997 and turned 55 later that year. I wanted to buy a house in Sunny Glen, the senior neighborhood at the southern end of the city, so I made an offer in on a house on Dogwood Court for $180K.

There were four offers on it but one of them was ahead of mine. I was the backup buyer, but it didn't fall out of escrow for me to buy it. If I had bought that house in Sunny Glen, I probably wouldn't have gotten involved in city politics or started writing the San Ramon Observer, but I'll save that story for later blog.

The house I eventually bought isn't in Sunny Glen but it is in San Ramon and not in Dublin, or Pleasanton, or Castro Valley, where I also looked. I could have bought a comparable house in Dublin for less money, but despite what some of my critics have accused me of, I prefer living in San Ramon (but I like shopping in Dublin). I briefly looked in Danville, and yes, I could have bought a townhouse or duet there for about the same amount as my house, but I still preferred living in San Ramon.

Many people would love to live in San Ramon but are not able to afford it, especially seniors on fixed incomes. A few years ago the City Council approved a senior development at the Church on the Hill on San Ramon Valley Blvd. for low income seniors. The builder is accepting applications now until February 25th. Five hundred applicants will be selected by lottery and then that pool will be considered for the 105 apartments available.

Another senior housing project is planned for the abandoned bank building on Alcosta. That building has been vacant for many years and is scheduled to be torn down soon to make way for low cost senior housing. Neighbors would like to see the old building gone for good.

Affordable housing for seniors is rarely controversial, but workforce housing has a different image. Questions have been raised at public hearings and on these blogs about why the city wants to add so much housing to the updated General Plan 2030. One reason frequently mentioned is the legal requirement for workforce housing by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and/or the San Francisco Bay area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). See story on Bay Area housing in Saturday's Contra Costa Times.

The goal of these laws is to cut the amount of traffic on freeways by requiring cities to have housing for jobs in the city. The rationale is that people who work in a city would be able to afford to live there and wouldn't commute long distances to work, clogging up the freeways and causing air pollution. The people who passed these laws (our esteemed State Assembly), must be living in an idealistic dream world. They clearly don't live in California, which was built on freeways.

The San Ramon City Council is planning up to 1500 housing units in the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan. Some residents and business owners object to putting residential units downtown. I'm against using the Toyota property for this, but there are other office buildings and strip malls that could include housing in a second or third story. Existing buildings would have to be built up or torn down, but the new buildings would be more modern, efficient, and LEED certified with apartments, condominiums, or townhouses incorporated into a mixed use neighborhood.

If there's a furniture store on the first floor, the sales clerks and cashiers could live on the second or third floor. Their units would be affordable, and not require driving to work. That's the goal of this kind of planning, which has worked in other places. Infill development makes it easier for people to live where they work and to be able to afford it. What's wrong with that?

Tuesday night the City Council will consider reactivating the City's Housing Authority program. This will take the place of the Redevelopment Agency, which has been used to revitalize older neighborhoods for the last 14 years. Governor Brown wants the State to take over redevelopment agencies, so the City Council is looking elsewhere to keep control over affordable housing in San Ramon.

The Planning Commission will also be holding two more Public Hearings on the update to the 2020 General Plan, which still includes zoning the North Camino Ramon area for up to 1500 new housing units.

The checker at Lucky's, the waitress at Max's Diner, and your aging mother or father need somewhere to live that's convenient to where they work and people they want to visit. So those of you for or against these plans should try to attend one or more of these meetings to let the City Council and/or Planning Commissioners know whether you want affordable housing downtown or out of town.