Council reviews key housing bills recently signed into law | November 11, 2022 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |

Pleasanton Weekly

News - November 11, 2022

Council reviews key housing bills recently signed into law

Also: Contract for consultant to conduct diversity, equity and inclusion study

by Christian Trujano

Pleasanton city staff presented what some council members said was a bleak and depressing report on the 2022 state legislative session, which included several housing-related bills recently signed into law.

While the presentation last week did provide information on other recently signed bills that had to do with water, homelessness and mental health, it was housing bills such as Assembly Bill 2011 and Senate Bill 6 that took over much of the conversation.

These two bills would allow housing projects to be built within existing commercial zones that are zoned for commercial uses today.

"The sorts of residential projects that would typically require a rezoning would just be allowed through these bills in the various mechanisms that they provide," Ellen Clark, community development director for the city, told the council on Nov. 1. "So that provides significant opportunities for developers to build housing where it's currently not allowed today."

Authored by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, AB 2011 will allow for a streamlined ministerial process for 100% affordable housing projects on the basis of two categories of projects that include significant increments of affordability -- 100% affordable projects, and mixed-income projects.

The bill is also exempt from California Environmental Quality Act guidelines which would usually look at future developments and make regulations depending on how those projects would affect the environment in terms of things like traffic.

SB 6, on the other hand, is a bill that was amended with union-only clauses while reducing affordability requirements and it does not provide permit streamlining unless it's applied in conjunction with bills like Senate Bill 35, which does allow streamlining.

There is no specific affordability requirement in SB 6, but projects under SB 6 will need to comply with local inclusionary standards and could allow for affordable housing if they use a companion piece of state law like SB 35, which has minimum affordability requirements in it.

"Think about it as a trade off between labor requirements and affordability requirements," Clark said. "So both bills, which have these similarities, normally one or the other of them would survive. In this case, both went forward because they offer slightly different ways to approach affordable housing, or housing construction."

Both of these bills will go into effect this upcoming June and will sunset in January 2033, but the amendment to have them start in June was actually thanks to the City Council Legislative Subcommittee.

"That's actually an amendment that the city of Pleasanton requested," Clark said. "It gives us a little bit more breathing room to develop implementation around this and for the state to develop better guidance around these very complicated areas of law."

That amendment was viewed as a win by Andres Ramirez, a senior associate at Townsend Public Affairs, which is an advocacy firm that worked with the city to engage with local state representatives and bill authors and offer amendments to several bills.

He told the council that, even though it can be seen as a small win, getting that extension shows the growing relationship between legislators and cities like Pleasanton that are presenting their reasons for regaining some local control.

In total, the city also sent 67 advocacy letters during the 2022 legislative session and monitored a total of 76 bills that were focused on a range of topics including housing, fiscal sustainability, infrastructure, public safety and sustainable development among others.

"The purpose of these meetings, especially as we do them individually and as a Tri-Valley cities coalition, is to develop and form a very strong relationship with these key stakeholders in Sacramento so that when we want to weigh in on bills, when we have requests, when we have suggested amendments, we have that relationship baked in, they trust us. They know we're a thought partner," Ramirez said.

He also said another win was securing other substantive amendments that will affect or mitigate some of the effects on how developments would have been built.

"Essentially the housing types would have been worse, had we not secured the amendments we secured," Ramirez said. "We were able to secure greater step back requirements. So in terms of community character, making sure that there's available light and not overshadowing from these dense tall buildings."

Clark said another notable provision that the city advocated for in its lobbying efforts, was to require setbacks on upper floors. That way the city has some ability to preserve a few corridors where projects could have been developed, to avoid the "sort of shade and shadow effects that you get with taller buildings."

"So the bottom line on this is that this is really a significant change," Clark said. "It opens up very large areas of many communities to residential development in areas that were never really contemplated for those types of uses."

Ramirez said that is why with the new legislative body coming into Sacramento following the elections, it could be a great chance to form these types of relationships early on. That way he and the city can continue lobbying for amendments that will mitigate negative impacts that these bills could have on cities like Pleasanton.

However, he added that this is probably not going to change the overall trajectory of the state passing more housing-related bills.

Councilmember Julie Testa said that is why even those small wins and amendments do not feel like wins and that she is still very concerned about the never ending push from the state to take away local control.

"The accumulation of everything that has passed over the last year, it's devastating," Testa said. "The small wins don't change that it's devastating what it's going to do to our community, and other communities ... across the state."

She asked Ramirez if there was anything the city could do to advocate for regaining local control to which he said it all depends on how he and other lobbyists can continue to fight back against the one size fits all approach these housing bills are taking.

Another significant bill that city staff touched on was AB 2097, which prohibits the imposition of parking requirements for residential and commercial projects that are within a half a mile of major transit.

"There are some limited exceptions, if you can make findings that there are certain impacts either to affordable housing or to existing parking, so it's a little bit of a ray of hope," Clark said. "But the bill also creates exceptions to the exception in making small projects automatically eligible with no way to limit that request to have no parking."

Clark said that AB 2097 would have an immediate direct effect on downtown Pleasanton in that if a site is within a half a mile of transit, and it's not otherwise excluded for some other reason, it would be eligible for 80 units to the acre.

"I think it's not just about the streets, but particularly in downtown, it's about city hall, and it's about the library," Councilmember Kathy Narum said. "Those should not become overnight parking. Those are for the residents and those are for events downtown, in my mind."

Mayor Karla Brown echoed those thoughts and added that developers should carry the burden of having to worry about the impacts of parking for future proposed housing developments.

"I mean, I'm just struggling with the idea that anybody would be interested in spending all the money to construct a highish-density housing within a half mile and know that people have cars, people need to take their kids to daycare and go to the grocery store," Brown said.

Councilmember Jack Balch, however, proposed a different line of thinking and said that the city shouldn't focus on fighting back on all of these bills, it should work with developers on creating well designed housing projects.

"It doesn't mean we over-build, it just means that we start thinking ahead and start working to build our community in a way that is insightful and with foresight," Balch said. "Instead of acting like someone just ran over our household cat, we need to be looking at how we are solving problems."

One idea he threw out was building a parking structure downtown.

"We do continue to advocate for changes that we think are appropriate with the legislators, we do," Balch said. "We keep telling them that (with) parking, one size does not fit all ... but I think we need to regain our city of planned progress, and I mean it outside of just a motto only. I think we need to be thinking more ahead."

In other business

The City Council moved forward with a professional services agreement in the amount of $224,500 to help facilitate a diversity, equity, and inclusion study.

The study will go toward developing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Strategic Plan, which was one of the 2019-20 City Council Work Plan priorities.

"Ultimately, this is about all organizations making sure that every single employee feels valued, feels respected, feels like they can be their authentic selves at work, which certainly has a significant impact on the success of the organization," said Lamont Browne, vice president of DEI solutions at MGT of America Consulting, LLC.

MGT is the national public sector consulting firm that the city is entering the agreement with -- Browne will act as the executive-in-charge for Pleasanton's DEI project.

Veronica Thomas, newly appointed director of human resources and labor relations, told the council that the city began working on implementing the project back in 2018 with executive team workshop training, but the pandemic halted the process.

"The executive team engaged in discussions around diversity, equity and inclusion and race, in an effort to start grasping an overall concept of DEI," Thomas said. "They were able to reset in February of 2021 so the city partnered with CircleUp education, which is a firm that helped to launch a city-wide training called diversity uncovered, which was completed by all city employees by the end of June 2021."

She said the exception to that was the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department, which completed their training in August of this year.

Now the next steps, Thomas said, will be operationalizing the DEI program with MGT and updating the city manager with quarterly reports on how the assessment analysis is going.

"The organizational assessment consists of policy analysis, taking a look at policies to identify which ones are really strong, and which ones have some gaps and then helping you improve upon those doing engagement of staff members," Browne said. "Every single staff member will have the opportunity to give their perspective through both a survey as well as participating in the focus group."

Browne said that will lead to developing an action plan which will be voted on and then, if passed, monitored by MGT to ensure that it's effective, and is having a positive impact on the entire organization.

"Every staff member, every future staff member, every leader, every elected official deserves to have their voice heard, to feel empowered in this process," Browne said. "Our recommendations are not based on what we think, it is based on data that shows strengths as well as gaps with a heavy emphasis on positive engagement with each one of your stakeholders."

City Manager Gerry Beaudin said the funding for the agreement with MGT will be coming out of the city manager's contingency budget, which is an account separate from the reserves fund that is set aside for miscellaneous things that come up along the way during the budget cycle.

"The need is really around being the preferred workplace in our region," Beaudin said. "We see our community changing rapidly around us in terms of demographics and we just want to be best positioned to provide high quality services, look at our policies, programs, facilities, and make sure that we're able to meet the needs of the community."

Narum said that a sense of belonging is important in the workplace so the city can retain more employees.

"I think when you look at our workforce; the sense of belonging leads to retention, which means we don't have openings and we're not struggling to keep up," Narum said. "A program like this, I think, will really help to highlight the sense of belonging."

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