Two years ago, the City Council halted the planning of development on Pleasanton's largely empty 400-acre East Side. Given the state's current determination to force more housing on cities, it might be time to restart that effort so that Pleasanton is ahead of the pack before state mandates hit us again.
The recent legislative session saw more than 130 housing-related bills introduced. A $3 billion affordable housing bond is headed for the November ballot next year.
"In 2018, we're going to see continued pressure from the state for local municipalities to meet housing objectives that are statewide," said Scott Raty, president of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce.
"With the state's continued emphasis on housing, we need to return to a discussion about the East Side before Gov. (Jerry) Brown decides what's the best use of that acreage," Raty said.
Pleasanton offers a good example of what state mandates mean for a city.
Over the last two years, high-density apartment complexes have been built on some of the 70 acres the council rezoned to meet numbers imposed by the state's Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) and requirements by a Superior Court judge and state housing authorities.
That followed a lawsuit the city lost to an Oakland-based affordable housing coalition over a 1996 voter-approved 29,000 housing cap which, the court ruled, discriminated against those who want to live here but can't find affordable housing.
At the same time, the council created the East Pleasanton Specific Plan Task Force to put together a plan for the 400 undeveloped acres that would lock in that property before 2023, when RHNA will issue new housing numbers. An East Side master plan would take the site off RHNA's list of potential sites.
However, pending bills now being considered in the legislature could allow the state and developers to move more aggressively to meet California's housing shortages well before RHNA issues new numbers.
With the state under increasing pressure to streamline the approval process for new construction, some of the legislature's new bills "encourage" more housing with or without city approvals.
Senate Bill 35, introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would require cities to provide their fair share of housing. It would also require, among other provisions, that developers and any subcontractors they use to pay prevailing (union) wages.
"Streamlining the housing development process is an important part of addressing our housing needs," said Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-San Ramon). "But SB 35 shuts down critical local input on housing and its effects on local communities, and unnecessarily adds to the cost of housing with rigid state mandates."
"Under this bill, even cities in our area like Dublin, which have built considerable housing options, could end up having zero say on whether they must build more housing," she added. "That would mean zero say in how the city must adjust a project to the needs of local schools and traffic and services. That is not the solution to housing bureaucracy and shortages."
Pleasanton Mayor Jerry Thorne agreed.
"The mayors in the 11 largest cities in the state have come out in support of the legislative package," Thorne noted. "Their instinct isn't wrong, but I want to ensure that we maintain individual control at the local level, while we also work collectively to solve our housing challenge."
Thorne wrote a letter of opposition on SB 35, saying though it is intended to streamline the housing approval process, it would have the net effect of "circumventing our current planning process."
"We have been advocating for local control over local land use issues for many years," Thorne said. "That is essential for local communities. But having that autonomy doesn't give us permission to put our heads in the sand and pretend we don't have a housing problem."
"We have all heard time and again how so many of our own children can't afford to live here," he added. "Irrespective of what the governor wants and will likely get, affordable housing is in short supply here in Pleasanton and throughout California."
* Editor's note: Jeb Bing is editor emeritus for the Pleasanton Weekly. His "Around Pleasanton" columns run on the second and fourth Fridays of every month.