Staring down the housing crunch | August 27, 2021 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - August 27, 2021

Staring down the housing crunch

Why 4 Tri-Valley cities appealed their RHNA allocations (and why Livermore didn't)

by By Julia Baum

Four Tri-Valley cities are among the 27 Bay Area jurisdictions appealing their assignments for the next Regional Housing Needs Allocation process cycle, contending that the proposed housing unit allotments present too many obstacles.

Danville, Dublin, Pleasanton and San Ramon have each filed an individual appeal and are seeking to reduce their allocation from an Association of Bay Area Governments appeals committee, made up of local elected officials, before the final RHNA Plan is adopted this fall.

Designed to hold California cities accountable for their fair share of their region's housing need, the RHNA process requires Bay Area cities to identify land sites to accommodate their total of assigned new housing units, but not to actually build the residential housing units. The 2023-31 cycle has an estimated 2.35 times more units than during the previous cycle.

All of the local appellants and others, including the counties of Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Marin and Sonoma, questioned ABAG's methodology in their appeals -- which Livermore Mayor Bob Woerner, whose city did not challenge its allocation, compared to "a zero-sum game" where for every jurisdiction that receives a reduction, another sees an increase.

Both the number of projected housing units -- 441,176 -- and appeals are much higher during the current cycle than the previous cycle in 2014, when the Bay Area was allotted 187,990 by the state.

From 2010 to 2019, Dublin's population grew from 46,036 to 66,147. The 44% increase made it "one of the fastest growing cities in California" at the time, which Dublin officials said in their appeal should be considered.

Dublin representatives argued that 2,267 of the city's 3,719 units assigned -- 1,449 above-moderate units and 818 very-low, low and moderate income units -- should "be reallocated to other jurisdictions in the Bay Area." They also said the draft allocation "fails to consider our past performance and lack of suitable land," including "allocating units to Dublin where the city does not have land use authority."

"This explosive growth was due to significant steps taken to facilitate the construction of both market-rate and affordable housing," officials said, adding that building permits for the construction of 4,396 units were issued by the city during the current RHNA cycle, compared to their allocated 2,285 units.

Dublin officials also expressed concerns about increased demand and dependence on imported water, as well as "high resource areas disproportionally impacting a diverse community."

The city of Pleasanton is asking to reduce their its RHNA allocation by 20%, or 1,193 units, to a new total of 4,473 units.

Pleasanton's request is largely based on what officials call "significant oversights in application of the methodology," including "failure to account for the increased uncertainty around water supplies that represent at least 20 percent of the city's potable supply."

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) discovered in local drinking water supplies last year have created "a significant constraint with respect to water supply for both existing and new development" that"has the potential to be significantly worsened by projected drought conditions in the state and the region," according to Pleasanton officials.

"In combination with the Governor's recently-declared drought emergency, and the above current and pending uncertainties around water supply, the prospect of accommodating close to 6,000 new housing units as specified in the RHNA is problematic," officials said.

Pleasanton officials also said the city "broadly identified the lack of vacant land as a constraint to the production of housing; and identified constraints in repurposing existing commercial properties in the vicinity of transit."

Officials added, "This strategy is a key focus of Plan Bay Area 2050 and of the RHNA methodology," which they said "fails to account for real world constraints and feasibility."

"Assuming a relatively high average density of 40 dwelling units per acre, close to 150 acres would need to be developed or redeveloped to satisfy the city's assigned RHNA," city officials said.

Pleasanton staff continued, "It is simply not realistic to assume that 20 to 25% of all properties would redevelop in these areas over the 8-year Housing Element period, given that the majority of this area is developed with viable commercial and retail uses, and points to the flawed assumptions in the Plan Bay Area growth modeling upon which the RHNA methodology is constructed."

Danville is seeking to reduce its allocation of 2,241 units by 600 to 800, which officials argued is based on an "incorrect assumption that the town has a locally identified Priority Development Area (PDA) which the RHNA process ... has used as a focus for future growth, and ignores Local Planning Factors relating to jobs-housing imbalance and development constraints."

With only one bus line serving the town and "limited to no access to regional public transit," officials said "the net effect" of 2,241 units added "to a transit-poor community like Danville would be to further impose auto dependence and a significant socioeconomic burden (in time and resources) on a segment of the population that can least afford it."

San Ramon officials "fundamentally disagree with the selected methodology" that led to the city's draft allocation of 5,111 units but said they focused their appeal on "what we perceive to be flaws in the RHNA process and data utilization that has resulted in a disproportionate housing numbers," instead of requesting their allocation be reduced by any specific amount.

Though officials said they support improving the region's jobs-housing balance, "we do not feel the forecasted development pattern from the Plan Bay Area 2050 has captured recent changes that significantly impact the jobs-housing balance for San Ramon as it relates to RHNA."

"As the home to Bishop Ranch Office Park, San Ramon has been a jobs-rich community, which has driven the continued emphasis on housing for the city," officials said.

As the only Tri-Valley community to not appeal its RHNA allocation, Woerner said about Livermore's decision in an interview last Friday with the Weekly, "From Livermore's perspective, we can accommodate them, so why would we need to appeal."

Livermore was given a draft assignment of 4,570 units, including 1,799 in above-moderate, 696 in moderate, 758 in low and 1,317 in very-low income categories.

"The council acknowledges that growth is necessary and that we do it in a deliberate way," Woerner said. "We're for balanced growth, where we understand that we need a mix of housing types."

Woerner added, "Cities always have a General Plan, and in that, there is always a sense of when you are done building. If you look at the RHNA numbers and their allocation over a number of years, it's more or less consistent with our envisioned growth rate in respect to build outs."

But adding more housing in the Tri-Valley won't address what's "driving most of the problems in the Bay Area," which Woerner said has been both job creation and a lack of housing in the South Bay and Peninsula.

"The battle is about will the Peninsula and Silicon Valley step up to their housing requirements," Woerner said. "The reapportionment that would make sense is the East Bay is being disproportionately assigned the housing."

Woerner added, "We're passing on this round and we can manage it, but we are commenting that more should have been allocated to the job creators."

ABAG will hold public hearings on all of the appeals in September before the Final RHNA Plan is adopted in the fall. The agency is required by law to allocate all 441,176 units assigned to the area.

If a jurisdiction's appeal of their draft RHNA allocation is successful, ABAG must redistribute the units to other local governments in the region, per the agency's website.

Comments on the appeals filed will be accepted until Monday (Aug. 30), and should be submitted to [email protected]

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