The Pleasanton City Council begrudgingly adopted a new Housing Element Tuesday that includes the 70 acres rezoned last year or high-density residential homes and apartments and now becomes part of the city's legally-binding General Plan.
The housing ordinance was approved after City Manager Nelson Fialho and Brian Dolan, Director of Community Development, said the detailed document had been reviewed and accepted by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) as meeting state housing mandates through 2023.
Housing Elements are part of the General Plans required by all California cities to show that they are meeting the statewide housing goal of "attaining decent housing and a suitable living environment for every California family."
Although Tuesday's vote to adopt the housing ordinance was unanimous, it was not a vote council members took lightly or even willingly.
"It's frustrating to see so much dictation of how to run our city coming from the state level," said Councilwoman and Vice Mayor Karla Brown. "The Housing Element is the state's way of telling the city of Pleasanton how to control its housing.
Mayor Jerry Thorne agreed.
"I continue to be frustrated with the state meddling in our local affairs, but the fact is it's going to get worse," he said. "We're seeing a lot of times at the state level where they want to tell us how to run things and they want to make us do things their way whether we like it or not."
"We're fighting this like crazy through the League of California Cities (where Thorne is a member)," he added. "The last time we did a count, we had killed 16 bills that were going to take away local control in the last legislative session. We'll keep fighting but I think the state is going to keep trying."
Added Councilwoman Kathy Narum: "I hope we are able to reach out to our new legislators and at least try to impress on them some of our frustrations, some of these things that are being dictated to us."
Both Narum and Thorne pointed out, however, that the city's unsuccessful and costly court fights with Urban Habitat and a Superior Court judge in 2012 might not have happened if the city had complied with the Housing Element requirement ahead of time.
"I think it's important that we comply with the law," Narum said. "We certainly don't need any more lawsuits. I don't want to spend taxpayer money in lawsuits that we can't win."
Thorne also talked about the need for a state-approved Housing Element.
"If we had been protected with a Housing Element, we would have been protected against lawsuits," Thorne explained. "That says something about complying with the law whether you like it or not."
It was the city's failure to reach an agreement during the 2007-2014 cycle of the state's Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), plus a housing cap approved by voters in 1996, that led Urban Habitat to seek a court order for compliance.
With both the state and a court ruling threatening to strip the city of its zoning powers, city leaders spent nearly two years and held hundreds of hours of community meetings, public hearings and staff discussions to fulfill the RHNA requirements before the deadline Dec. 31.
By then, the City Council had rezoned 70 acres for high-density residential development on nine separate sites in various parts of Pleasanton for apartment-style units to accommodate the requirements in State Housing laws. The rezoning allowed for high-density developments of 30 units per acre would be allowed.
Two of those developments are currently underway. A 168-unit, three- and four-story complex on West Las Positas Boulevard near Stoneridge Drive, being built by St. Anton Partners, is nearing completion. Work is just starting on a multi-story complex of 498 apartments in three-and-four-story buildings in Hacienda Business Park, being built by Essex Property Trust.
The only change to the Housing Element approved Tuesday, which was accepted by state authorities, is cutting the previously-allowed density on an apartment complex on property owned by C.M. Capital on West Las Positas Road to 12.5 units per acre from 30 and to chop the height of anything built there to two stories at the most.
Council members also talked about the benefits the new Housing Element will bring to the city.
"We'll have coming forward a large amount of affordable housing in Pleasanton that we didn't have before," Councilwoman Brown said. "We're going to have housing that hopefully our children and others who want to live in Pleasanton can afford."
Last year, the City Council approved a new Growth Management ordinance that limits the number of residential housing permits to 235 units annually. Those numbers can be bunched to allow developers the option of building more units one year, but then that excess must be subtracted going forward to keep to a 235-unit average through 2023.