Attorney General joins in suit to invalidate Pleasanton's 29,000-unit housing cap law

City Council vows to fight legal attack on measure voters approved in 1996

Following through on earlier complaints to Pleasanton officials, State Attorney General Jerry Brown joined a San Francisco affordable housing coalition yesterday in a 2006 lawsuit that seeks to overturn the city's 29,000-unit housing cap.

"Pleasanton's draconian and illegal limit on new housing forces people to commute long distances, adding to the bumper to bumper traffic along (Interstates) 580 and 680 and increasing dangerous air pollution," Brown said in a statement. "It's time for Pleasanton to balance its housing and its jobs and take full advantage of its underutilized land and proximity to BART."

The City Council, in a closed-door meeting last week, instructed City Attorney Michael Roush to defend the housing cap measure, which voters approved in 1996. Although some city officials, including Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, have said the law might not hold up in a court challenge, the only way the housing cap could be changed or cancelled would be in a court decision or by another public vote.

Most believe that given the public's view of traffic and other quality of life concerns within the city that voters would be reluctant to remove the housing cap that was designed to protect Pleasanton from more growth.

Pleasanton currently has about 27,500 homes and apartments, including those already approved for construction, leaving only 1,500 yet to be added before the city reaches build-out.

Brown's motion, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, joins the suit filed in 2006 by Urban Habitat and Pleasanton resident Sandra De Gregorio that challenged the city's Measure GG, the voter-approved housing cap and growth management program that voters approved in 1996.

In a letter to Hosterman and City Manager Nelson Fialho last year, Brown questioned the legality of the housing cap measure and suggested that it be deleted or changed in the city's revised General Plan, which was being considered at the time.

Nevertheless, the city's General Plan update, which is scheduled to go to the City Council July 21 for final approval, calls for the creation of 45,000 additional jobs by 2025 while retaining the housing limit.

Brown argues in his motion to intervene in the Urban Habitat suit that the state's regional housing needs assessment requires Pleasanton to provide 3,277 additional houses, apartments or condominiums by 2014, but the cap only allows for 2,000 more to be built, according to the attorney general's office. The attorney general said the lack of an adequate number of houses in the city is a significant cause of traffic congestion, pollution, and urban sprawl in the area.

The lawsuit contends that the cap violates state law, saying that the Legislature has declared that the availability of housing is a matter of "vital statewide importance," yet many workers are unable to find affordable housing within Pleasanton.

A 2005 study by the Association of Bay Area Governments found that 79 percent of the 58,000 employees working in Pleasanton at the time lived outside the city, and that their commutes can take two hours per day or more.

The housing shortage and long commutes come despite what the attorney general's office said was ample land for development, including property adjacent to the Pleasanton BART station, which is part of the Hacienda Business Park. Several proposals for adding more housing in the business park are pending before the council and Planning Commission, although they have been delayed pending the approval of the new General Plan.

"There is plenty of room under the housing cap for houses to be built,'' City Attorney Roush said. "The housing cap is a valid exercise of the land use."

Cliff Rechtschaffen, a special assistant to the attorney general's office, said the state's Department of Housing and Community Development brought the case of Pleasanton to the attorney general's office after finding the city out of compliance with their housing element requirements. He said the goal of the lawsuit, which was initially filed by the nonprofit group in October 2006, is to have the housing cap modified or repealed.

"The voters adopted it, but they can't adopt something that isn't lawful," he said.

In his suit, Brown contends that:

• Pleasanton is violating state law by enforcing a housing cap that prevents the City from accommodating its fair share of the regional housing need, as required by state housing element law (Gov. Code §65583).

• Pleasanton's housing cap violates the state constitution, which prohibits cities from adopting ordinances that conflict with state law.

• Pleasanton's general plan is internally inconsistent, in violation of California Government Code Section 65300.5. The city's existing land use element contains the housing cap limit of 29,000 housing units, while its housing element recognizes that the cap must be addressed because it prevents the City from meeting its fair share of regional housing needs.

Brown's suit adds that if Pleasanton continues to enforce its housing cap, the consequences for the region include:

• Increased traffic congestion and longer commute times. Interstate 580 has some of the longest commute times in the region, with evening eastbound commuters delayed 7,410 hours and morning westbound commuters delayed 5,120 hours in 2007.

• Urban sprawl. Communities outside of Pleasanton will continue to lose farmland and open space to accommodate Pleasanton's workers. These communities will have to build more schools, fire and police stations to keep up with anticipated growth.

• Increased greenhouse gas emissions. More people will be commuting for longer periods and over greater distances. Pleasanton's CO2 output was 1.388 million tons in 2008. When the city is projected to reach 105,000 jobs in 2025, it is estimated its CO2 output will increase to 1.940 million tons. The increase is the equivalent of adding 120,000 cars to the road every year.

• Increased dependence on foreign oil.

Brown said that transportation is the largest contributor to California's greenhouse gas emissions, pointing out that the California Air Resources Board estimated that transportation is currently responsible for 38 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Transportation accounts for 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the Bay Area.

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Posted by Tennesse Jed
a resident of Jensen Tract
on Jun 25, 2009 at 7:21 am

Hey Moonbeam! Stick it clown!

We lost! And when does a SF housing authority have a say in our town...

and hey Jeb, where's the balance in your article?

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Posted by Duh
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2009 at 8:19 am

Uh, it's not a lack of available housing that causes 74% of employees in Pleasanton to commute. It's cost of housing here. Lots of these commuters CHOOSE to live in Tracy and other outlying areas so they can afford larger homes. Building more two bedroom condos here and crapping up the tiny amount of unused land in Pleasanton won't convince these people to move here. Jerry Brown is still an idiot.

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Posted by unknown
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Jun 25, 2009 at 8:27 am

I agree with Jed also we go along with that are town will start to look like other towns the cap was voted for a reason.When he was Mayor of Oakland when he lived in his part of town did he put affordible housing next to him?

Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown
on Jun 25, 2009 at 8:27 am

Moonbeam..blah,blah,blah. Brown is right, we should build more mixed-use housing near BART. I’ve had enough of the stucco suburb sprawl tract homes and big box garbage. Either you adjust to a more sustainable built environment or you become another bland, empty, Bushville with a landscape nobody cares about.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2009 at 8:34 am

"A 2005 study by the Association of Bay Area Governments found that 79 percent of the 58,000 employees working in Pleasanton at the time lived outside the city, and that their commutes can take two hours per day or more"

Why can't these people move to Dublin? Last I saw there were plenty of apartments there. So if the problem is these people's long commute to their work in Pleasanton, Dublin is a solution, no need to remove the housing cap.

We work in San Jose and live in Pleasanton, by choice, not need. Many commute for different reasons. Maybe people who work in Pleasanton and commute are doing so by choice, and if not, look at Dublin for an apartment to reduce the commute.

I cannot believe that this thing is in part due to a challenge by a Pleasanton resident.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2009 at 8:38 am

Jerry Brown's argument are not logical. He is obviously not very smart and not qualified to be Governor of California. Please do not vote for him, imagine the things he would do as governor, scary!

Like this comment
Posted by 1glaslipper
a resident of Livermore
on Jun 25, 2009 at 8:45 am

I grew up in Pleasanton, But i will never be able to afford a house there. I still love going to Farmers Market and visiting my parents in P-town. But i would not move if affordable housing was built. Because i now live in the up and coming Livermore wine country. I hope that you all can reach a agreement that will make everyone happy.

Pleasanton is not a gated community:)

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Posted by SteveP
a resident of Parkside
on Jun 25, 2009 at 9:39 am

SteveP is a registered user.

Hey, Phil, no one cares if you've had enough 'stucco suburb sprawl tract homes and big box garbage.'
The hard working people that have afforded these homes are paying property taxes to support the services you use in Pleasanton.
The voters in this city (except you) were smart enough to stop the intercity sprawl and ghetto-infill by voting for the cap.

If you enjoy being elbow to elbow with your friends in row houses near BART, try Antioch or Pittsburgh. It's cheaper there, too. You know why? Because it's overbuilt and it brings down everyone's property value--even your landlord's.

Like this comment
Posted by Get a Clue
a resident of Downtown
on Jun 25, 2009 at 9:42 am

No, Duh, the reason housing is so expensive in Pleasanton is BECAUSE the supply has been artificially constrained. Hurray for Jerry and the lawsuit. Pleasanton has made it so difficult to build homes that hardly anything gets built and it's all at low density, greenhouse gas generating suburbs. There are plenty of opportunities to get creative if you could get past all the selfish attitudes in this town - see the comment above about "these people" who are probably your kids. You cannot stop population and traffic by limiting housing - you will just add people to existing homes. And who determines which house is number 29,000 - I would like to see that process.

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Posted by SteveP
a resident of Parkside
on Jun 25, 2009 at 9:57 am

SteveP is a registered user.

Get a clue: I agree with you that you can't stop or even reduce traffic (or crime, for that matter) by imposing a cap.

But, how do you expect building more houses, adding more population, cars, etc. will reduce traffic and crime?
That logic makes no sense whatsoever.

Additionally, you will strain all of our existing services and decrease the quality of life for those people who made the sacrifices necessary to afford living in this area.

Unless this is about class envy again---is that the underlying problem here? Should we stop working hard to better our living conditions?

Like this comment
Posted by Jan
a resident of Las Positas Garden Homes
on Jun 25, 2009 at 10:20 am Jerry thinks adding more housing (thus adding to the population) in Pleasanton will help the traffic issues. Wow...that's about all I can say to that level of ignorance. Pleasanton voters chose to keep the small town atmosphere of our fantastic city. The traffic problems are because everyone is moving to the valley, not because Pleasanton put a cap on housing. Dublin is building like crazy and the traffic continues to get worse. I'd be interested to hear Jerry's take on that.

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Posted by DP
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Jun 25, 2009 at 10:29 am

The Association of Bay Area Government (ABAG) sets unrealistic targets for housing and this is where the arguement first started. I think Pleasanton does have a good case to fight this lawsuit, but I do fear that it will have to go to the top of our Court system to be settled and I hope our City Officials are willing to fight that long. Pleasanton does plan on additional housing and our new housing element does call for mixed use housing in the business park next to BART. However, people will still be upset because the affordable by design concept does not work well in an area like Pleasanton which has a high cost of land. I hope we do not get into the habit of subsidized housing. We can see what has happened in neighboring communities with the recent boom of housing and it has not worked. Just look at Windemere in San Ramon. High forclosure rates and lots of unsold homes. Dublin is struggling with thier mixed use housing off Tassahara as well.

Jerry Brown is only doing this to pander for votes in areas outside of Pleasanton. If he was truly concerned about traffic and reducing emmissions he would put the money the State will waste on this lawsuit towards bringing BART to Livermore and/or building a bypass from Tracy to San Jose.

I hope the people of Pleasanton fight this lawsuit to protect our current home values and quality of life.

Like this comment
Posted by Zach
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Jun 25, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Jerry Brown had a lot of personal interest in building all the condos in Oakland when he was mayor. I would not be surprised if he is trying to use his political power to once again flood a city full of condos, and make a profit from it.

Like this comment
Posted by StopJobsNow
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jun 25, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Why is it these urban types like Moonbeam never address the jobs part of this equation? Close down jobs in his beloved San Francisco and other urban locations, and this will cut down the length of the commuting. Convert those commercial structures into the high-density, crime-infested, government-subsidized housing that Jerry is so in love with. This approach reduces the amount of required communting by moving the jobs to where people already live (e.g., the Tri-Valley and Central Valley), and also creates more housing near the employers that still stay in Frisco. On top of all this, everyone gets a "feel good" benefit by reducing Junk Science's Global Warming hysteria.

Like this comment
Posted by Chas
a resident of Danbury Park
on Jun 25, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Why is it that politicians like to control everything?

If the people of Pleasanton don't want to build any new homes, why should some retread politician or some liberal group from SF tell us what we can and cannot do?

When will liberty come back to us? Perhaps the dems will over reach nationally and it will come back. I miss it...

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jun 25, 2009 at 4:22 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

I'm not a big fan of the housing cap not because I believe we should be building instead, but because I think it is a difficult cap to defend in a court of law. That being said, these politicians like Brown seem to be basing their arguments on an untested trend in municipal planning that favors mixed-use high density buildings over "suburban sprawl". I can't say which style of "smart growth" is better, only that it may be important to keep in mind that these are trends and fashions. Someone above pointed out that population density is a driver of traffic and other civilization ills so it doesn't make sense that adding to that density would be a relief for that. I think historically we've seen what ends up happening with "high density mixed-used" as urban centers around the country have decayed while the population moved to the 'burbs.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jun 25, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

There's a lot of people who just don't want to live in "high density mixed-use" places.

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Posted by javadoc
a resident of Dublin
on Jun 25, 2009 at 5:22 pm

javadoc is a registered user.

I'm torn on this one. I don't know what the relevant state laws are regarding city planning and housing, but the AG's position sounds dubious. Could be that the summary we're hearing from news sources isn't providing the details we need to see if it passes the smell test. One thing for certain, though - "carbon emissions" should not be a rationale guiding anything.

What really makes me sympathetic toward the lawsuit, in a guilty-pleasure sort of way, was highlit nicely by Chas's post. To wit:

"If the people of Pleasanton don't want to build any new homes..."

"When will liberty come back to us?"

Local housing restrictions and zoning issues drive me crazy. When will liberty come back to us? At the local level, a great place to start would be to respect others' property rights. Sure, the schools in Pleasanton are good, but how much of the precious property value that we keep hearing about is the result, basically, of ganging up on property owners and telling them what they can and can't do with their property?

I'll let others make the obvious connection to another current hot-button issue that seems to have upset "the people of Pleasanton."

Liberty is great, as long as you are the one telling others what they can and can't do with their property.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jun 25, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Yea, the carbon emissions argument is over the top.

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Posted by Guillermo Martin
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Jun 25, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Hey Jerry, I can't afford to live in Los Altos where I work too. I think you need to add some affordable housing (under $1.5M) in Menlo Park, Atherton & Los Altos Hills...

Sheeesh! What a maroon. People choose to live in their respective communities for a myriad of reasons & the plain fact of being close to work, while desirable, is not a huge contributing factor. Quality of life issues like public safety, a vibrant downtown, small town-esqe feeling, good schools, low crime, great climate & easy access were the primary determining factors when we moved here over 20 years ago. I do not want Pleasanton to loose it's distinct charm & become yet another Hayward, Foster City or, God forbid...Mountain House!

Like this comment
Posted by No Loons
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Well, (former) Govenor Moonbeam is at it again. The guy's elevator just doesn't go to the top. The real danger is if he gets elected Govenor again - we could expect more of the craziness that we suffered through during his first gig as Governor. The state still has not recovered from some of the devastation he created.

Have you ever seen his official portrait he commissioned that hangs in the State Capitol? It reflects the true Jerry Brown - it truly looks like a portrait of Bozo the Clown (seriously, I'm not joking). So, when it comes election time,DON'T VOTE FOR THIS BOZO (or the even loonier Gavin Newsom).

This latest act of Jerry Brown lunacy is him trying to force his left-wing loon (and in this case the emphas is really on the LOON) beliefs on Pleasanton. He wants everyone to live in the high-density sty that he lives in. Pleasanton really has to fight this one or we will wind up looking like western Alameda county. Any estimate of how much YOUR house value would go down???

Like this comment
Posted by Greg-o
a resident of Foothill Farms
on Jun 25, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Why is that Democrats think they have to dictate every facet of our lives? Doesn't anybody care about their freedom anymore? Evidently not, or they wouldn't vote for the likes of Brown and Pelosi. It really is time to get the heck out of California - this ship is going down.

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Posted by Charles
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Jun 25, 2009 at 6:06 pm

No Loons,

You are 100% on the mark. Jerry Brown was, and is, a Jack that needs to be put back in the box - and then nailed shut.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jun 25, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

My concern is that we're gonna get a court that ends up mandating "solutions" to us that certainly won't be in our best interests.

Like this comment
Posted by Ghetto Resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Seriously, this is what Jerry Brown wants to spend money on!!! TALK ABOUT WASTE!!

Like this comment
Posted by vernaparker
a resident of Ridgeview Commons
on Sep 2, 2009 at 8:57 am

I like this topic

Like this comment
Posted by Pietra
a resident of Del Prado
on Sep 2, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Low income high density housing should be mandatory for this town and I applaud Jerry Brown for sticking up for the rights of the less fortunate and in addition I believe that the housing should be funded by either the state for the federal government. Those children should have the same right to go to the schools as our children.

Like this comment
Posted by Polprav
a resident of Ridgeview Commons
on Oct 11, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Hello from Russia

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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