Like it or not, affordable housing is coming to Pleasanton, and with it, as is nearly always the case, come questions about four issues: crime, schools, housing values and traffic.
All four of those concerns were brought up at a workshop in March; then in July, the Pleasanton City Council approved a preliminary plan to rezone 17 sites, totaling 105 acres for more than 3,000 affordable high-density housing. Those sites include 10 acres in the Gateway Center between Valley Avenue and I-680 for up to 300 new apartments behind the new Safeway, a 16-acre site at the southeast corner of Stanley Boulevard and Bernal Avenue, across from McDonald's, and on the Kiewit site across Stanley on Valley Avenue, where 49 acres could be available for up to 300 high-density housing units.
That's not counting a 350-unit apartment complex near the new West Dublin/Pleasanton BART station near Stoneridge Shopping Center that city officials approved in 2008. That project will include 70 apartments for very-low-income households, which means they earn 50% or less than the area's median income, which is $64,600 for an individual and $92,300 for a family of four.
Developer BRE is moving ahead with its plan to build 498 apartments on two sites in the Hacienda Business Park, and of those, under city regulations, 15% must be affordable, meaning residents can qualify if they fall under certain income guidelines. That means about 74 apartments for the current development, with other sites in the future.
Some residents at the March workshop worried about the potential for a spike in crime and possible gang-related activity. Others were concerned about a drop in property values, school overcrowding and lower test scores, as well as worries about increases in traffic, whether the location was the best, and the look of the multi-story units.
Studies, including one by New York University released in September, show crime doesn't increase for even very-low-income residents who are typically issued housing vouchers commonly known as Section 8.
"In brief, we find no evidence that an increase in the number of voucher holders in a tract leads to more crime," that study says.
Pleasanton police have recently instituted a program to give unwanted tenants the boot and to keep potential problems from moving in. The crime free multi-housing program has been up and running for nearly two years, according to Ken McNeill, Pleasanton's crime prevention officer.
"It's a fully volunteer program for apartment communities in the city of Pleasanton," McNeill explained. "Basically, the (rental) contract says the tenants agree not to get in trouble with the law."
In short, if someone with a crime-free lease agreement is arrested -- on or off the property -- management has the right to evict him or her. If a visitor gets in trouble while at the complex, the tenant who invited that person can also get evicted.
"We don't have to wait for a conviction," McNeil said, adding the program has withstood court challenges that ran all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Pleasanton, there are already 26 complexes that have 10 or more units. Seven complexes have been fully certified in the program, going through all three phases, and another seven are in the process of completing it.
McNeill said the first phase is an eight-hour training open to everyone employed by a complex: owners, property managers, maintenance staff and sales staff. It addresses everything from crime prevention theory to gangs and drug activity to the crime-free lease agreement.
The second phase is a survey by the Police Department.
"Crime prevention through environmental design is a way of making the property more inviting to the people who should be there and less inviting to the people who shouldn't," McNeill said.
Police look at unlit areas and bushes that could hide a potential burglar, as well as door locks and peepholes. They make suggestions to improve security, then check to see that the recommended improvements have been made.
The third phase is a social event for tenants, to give residents the opportunity to get to know each other better and introduce the lease addendum.
"Most people are very good. They say, 'Yeah, that's a good idea,'" McNeill said. "It absolutely does work. ... We've served eight notices to evict."
Statistics back up McNeill. Archstone Apartments, in the 5600 block of Owens Drive, has 540 units, and over the last few years, calls for service -- which include crime calls as well as complaint calls -- have gone from 426 in 2007 to 256 in 2010. Stoneridge Apartments, in the 100 block of Stoneridge Mall Road, with 520 units, has dropped from 190 calls in 2007 to 182 calls last year. Both complexes are trending lower for the current year as well.
Just the number of apartments, low income or not, will have an impact on the school district. School board Chairwoman Valerie Arkin was on the Hacienda Task Force, which looked at increased housing from every angle. Arkin said the three projects could mean 350 new students moving in and going to Donlon Elementary and Hart Middle schools.
The overall impact aside, children from lower income families -- what the Pleasanton Unified School District describes as socio-economically disadvantaged -- typically don't do as well as other students.
In Pleasanton, 54.6% of low-income students were proficient in English in 2010-11, up from 51.7% in 2009-10, and 52% were proficient in math, up from 46.2% in 2009-10. By comparison, the district's average for English was 83.7% in 2009-10 and 84% in 2010-11 and 81.7% in math for 2002-10 and 81.4% in 2010-11, according to Cindy Galbo, assistant superintendent of education services.
Raising those scores has been the subject of a yearlong push by the PUSD, and Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi is adamant in saying the district is committed to educating every child.
"Regardless of their economic background, they are able and capable of learning and it's our responsibility to serve them," Ahmadi said. "Philosophically, we don't have an issue with students who don't have the same resources as everyone else. They're all students."
Two studies, one from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and another from Virginia Technical University, show that affordable housing and apartment complexes in general do not lower home prices in their area.
The MIT study, released in 2005, found that "high-density mixed-income rental developments in single-family neighborhoods do not affect the value of surrounding homes."
The Virginia Tech study, in fact, says "a well-located apartment building with attractive landscaping and entranceways raises the overall value of detached homes compared to having no apartments nearby." That study was released in 2003.
David Stark, public affairs director of the Bay East Association of Realtors in Pleasanton, pointed out that affordable housing is not something new to Pleasanton.
"It is unlikely that these developments will have an effect on residential property values. There are simply too many other factors that impact sales prices," Stark said. "Residential real estate sales prices in Pleasanton are among the highest in the Tri-Valley due to its location, employment opportunities, school performance and community amenities."
He added that the city of Pleasanton has "extremely high standards" for design and construction.
One of the main concerns from Pleasanton residents who spoke out against plans for the Hacienda sites was traffic. Those two sites and the already-approved Stoneridge site are to be what's called transit-oriented, with people using public transportation to get to and from work. The city estimates more than one car for each of the families, and those alone could mean additional traffic, especially for people who drive to work or commute elsewhere.
"Yes, it will increase traffic," said Pleasanton Planning Manager Janice Stern. "However, development of that site for residential use will generate less peak-hour traffic than the previously approved office uses."
Some people have objected to what's been called "Dublin-style development," meaning multi-story apartments, some with stores on the ground floor. Residents at the housing workshop also said the two Hacienda complexes are in the wrong place, suggesting they should be closer to BART, such as on Dublin Canyon Road, or on Vineyard Avenue, near other existing apartments.
One of the two Hacienda sites is at the intersection of Willow Road and Owens Drive, slated for 247 apartments; and the other, at the corner of Hacienda and Gibraltar drives, is planned for 251 apartments. While the project at Stoneridge has already been approved, the two Hacienda properties are still under review by city planners with an eye toward breaking ground next year.