Editorial: Tri-Valley wisely teams up on housing legislation; state should listen


California legislators' proposals to address the housing shortfall in the Bay Area and statewide have been on the radar for local leaders for several months. Of the dozens of bills pertaining to housing introduced in the state legislature this session, Senate Bill 50, which passed out of committee last week is probably the most contentious and concerning.

SB 50 by State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would force cities to allow multi-story, high-density apartment buildings in R-1 zoned residential areas near public transit with no limits on the number of units and no parking requirements. It would undo the historic local autonomy that cities enjoy over land-use decisions.

The cities of Pleasanton, Dublin, Livermore and San Ramon and the town of Danville are responding by joining forces on more in-depth community education and regional advocacy on the topic of housing.

This banding together approach is unique to the Tri-Valley; we applaud our local councils for being pre-emptive, collaborative and creative in planning to combat this legislation that will give Sacramento control over land-use, with little or no input from the people we elected to represent our local interests.

Pleasanton City Manager Nelson Fialho said the passage of the Tri-Valley framework is "the first step in a collective effort for the cities to work together in finding regional solutions to comply with new state housing mandates, as well as the nearly 100 newly proposed housing bills this legislative year."

Each of the five Tri-Valley councils has voted to approve the cities' housing and policy framework, a consensus document that details shared concerns about the Bay Area's so-called "CASA Compact" and creates a starting point to achieve common regional housing goals.

The city of Pleasanton and other Tri-Valley municipalities were shut out of the drafting process of the CASA Compact, a 10-point plan with recommendations and strategies to address the Bay Area's housing issues that is being used by regional and state officials to guide legislative proposals.

Now these municipalities are hoping state legislators will include the collaborative's policy work into the legislative process with bills like SB 50, "especially since the CASA process excluded us," Fiahlo said.

There is little question that passage of measures like SB 50 would trigger legal challenges and a voter initiative to overturn them and re-establish local zoning powers.

To avoid that outcome, legislators must work with local government leaders to craft incentives, not pre-emptive one-size-fits-all mandates, for the construction of needed housing and, most of all, funding for affordable-housing development.

The current effort to impose a solution on California cities ignores the complicated factors that have created the problem and attempts to solve it without addressing the underlying economic realities.

First, focusing only on increasing housing production of market-rate units without parallel regulation or incentives to reduce new commercial development addresses only one side of the equation. As long as communities are allowed to approve new commercial development and export the problem of housing workers to other cities, we are destined to never stabilize housing prices.

State action must impose limits on non-residential development and tie it to housing production, and housing impact fees should be raised to create funds for affordable housing.

Second, new high-density market-rate housing development, such as what has been built in Dublin, results in rents only affordable to high-income earners. So while Dublin is far ahead of cities like Pleasanton and Danville in zoning for more housing, it's not addressing the highest priority need for housing affordable to lower-income workers.

Instead of trying to micromanage zoning in cities around the state, legislators should be focusing on funding strategies that would create incentives for cities to attract and approve below-market rate housing for service workers, seniors and other lower-income residents.

Wiener and those who support his legislation are correct that the housing shortage is driving working families out of the Bay Area, gentrifying communities and pushing many to homelessness or to exorbitantly long commutes.

We agree with our sister publication, the Palo Alto Weekly, that cities like Pleasanton, with high land values, need "financing solutions to enable significant public funding of higher density affordable-housing development by nonprofit housing entities and incentives to utilize existing publicly owned land, such as municipal parking lots.

"SB 50's zoning pre-emption strategy is a divisive distraction. Wiener and his colleagues would be wise to refocus their attention on the financing strategies and incentives to achieve the housing we need most, and on enacting laws that restrict commercial development in cities that are not meeting the housing needs of their communities.

"Otherwise their well-intended efforts are destined to come back to bite them in the next election."

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5 people like this
Posted by John B
a resident of Happy Valley
on Apr 11, 2019 at 6:15 pm

There is no clear counter proposal or alternative plans for SB50 from Tri-valley leaders to increase housing. Economics 101, demand and supply. It's pathetic that our bay area leaders are unable to forecast housing when they approved so many startup's, businesses around. We can't be sitting in isolation thinking it's not my problem. No town mayor/council will come forward to increase housing. Every town wants money from business establishments but not housing. If we can't have agreement among ourselves, Sacramento or Washington will step in and make the decision for us. It's our inability to solve the problems. May be our tri-valley leaders join SB50 group and make changes. One of my recommendation is make every R1 up-zoned to a fourplex, by default upto a max of FAR 2.0. Some people will convert to and some will not, overall increasing the housing production. This will make most of the builders out of reach, inviting any kind of speculation and limiting the impact on neighbored. My two cents..

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Posted by sjd
a resident of Livermore
on Apr 11, 2019 at 7:10 pm

Tri-valley: "No taking our local control, we know what's best for our community."

Also tri-valley: Web Link

(and before you start, SB50 affects SF and SJ more than Pleasanton)

No one is telling me the alternative where we suddenly get serious about our housing and commute problem. Tweaking around the edges with redevelopment and tiny city incentives isn't and hasn't been cutting it. It's amazing that if you insist on not allowing fourplexes in R1 zones for decades, adjacent to billion dollar transit projects, the state gets annoyed.

"give Sacramento control over land-use"
No, it gives Sacramento control over certain wasteful restrictions. You still get to dictate impact fees, school fees, access design, building massing, etc.

"As long as communities are allowed to approve new commercial development and export the problem of housing workers to other cities, we are destined to never stabilize housing prices."
Except the legislation targets "job rich communities" specifically.

"housing impact fees should be raised to create funds for affordable housing."
It costs $500k per unit to build ONE apartment of affordable housing in SF. We're wasting affordable housing dollars on the middle class instead of the truly needy because we've completely distorted the housing market.

"new high-density market-rate housing development, such as what has been built in Dublin, results in rents only affordable to high-income earners."
First of all, Dublin build only townhomes in the hills, which is not the same thing as good development. Second, yes, new housing is expensive. Can you imagine if all the high income earners in Dublin instead competed in the existing housing market? New housing is a sink for people who were moving in anyways so they don't bid the price up on that 1980's 1-br.

"Instead of trying to micromanage zoning in cities around the state"
Wait I thought the problem was one-size-fits-all, now it's micromanaging? Stay consistent.

"create incentives for cities to attract and approve below-market rate housing for service workers, seniors and other lower-income residents."
As I said above, this is not a problem you can subsidize your way out of. Our construction industry has been destroyed by the lack of builds, so any subsidy just bids up the price of land. Also amazing that the proposed solution to rich cities blocking housing is to give them more money ("financing") to build housing.

The market needs to work for the median worker again. Where we need state subsidy, we need it for the truly needy.

3 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Apr 11, 2019 at 7:57 pm

Pleasanton Parent is a registered user.

Id turn this back on the state- cant build housing without infastructure to support. Enable and create the infastructure to support the development requirement you want. Cities should file suit against the state.

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Posted by John B
a resident of Heritage Valley
on Apr 11, 2019 at 10:42 pm

PP : Property taxes, impact fees, school fees etc are collected by city are meant to develop the infrastructure and provide city services. By approving more housing, they collect more tax revenue, year after year, very predictable and guaranteed. Percentage of money spent from this, on infrastructure is very minuscule. Most of the cities around by, are financially broken not because of infrastructure needs but by generous pension obligations for the coming years. In my view, infrastructure is a mute point/cause, not to increase housing. It's like a kid saying stomach pain or head ache or ankle pain etc, the moment you ask to study. City of Cupertino approved Apple park creating 10000+ jobs and other ripple jobs. They haven't created even 500 new housing, Same thing with Palo Alto, SFO and other many cities. I hope our Tri-valley leaders come up with a real viable plan that increases housing.

2 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Apr 12, 2019 at 7:47 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

John B, I posted an article recently on another thread that stated it is the intention of developers to end all fees that they feel make construction too expensive. Apparently, they believe we can just pass bonds to pay for infrastructure and schools. I’ll look for that posting.

2 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Apr 12, 2019 at 8:26 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Not sure this link will work if you aren’t a subscriber: Web Link

March 5 Chronicle, page A9: “Later this year, lawmakers are expected to consider changes to the fees that local governments can charge housing developers to offset the impacts their projects have on public services. The issue is a priority for home builders who say exorbitant fees and other mandates that delay approval for projects make construction prohibitively expensive in California.”

2 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Apr 12, 2019 at 9:01 pm

So cities are responsible for freeways and schools?

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Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Apr 13, 2019 at 9:12 am

Grumpy is a registered user.

This whole thing is disgusting. The Democrats are becoming as bad as the GOP in southern states and destroying local control.

Both parties are greedy, corrupt, and autocratic. I'm tired of it.

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Posted by Robert S. Allen
a resident of Livermore
on Apr 15, 2019 at 1:33 pm

Robert S. Allen is a registered user.

Jobs, similar attractions, and parking should be the prime uses of land near transit stations outside the metro core - far more than housing.

A transit user has more options from home to station than from station to destination, including one's private automobile. Station to destination needs to be walkable or have good local transit connections. Ample parking lets homes be much farther - even miles - from a transit station.

As land values rise, surface parking can go into structures to accommodate other uses without razing homes and disrupting communities.

Housing is NOT TOD (Transit Oriented Development)! SB 50 should fail. AB 2923 should be repealed.

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