Jun 6 2011

Sacramento Demands More Low to Very-Low Income Housing Units in Piedmont

On Monday, June 6, at 7:30 pm, the Piedmont City Council is expected to accept staff recommendations to change the City’s General Plan Housing Element. The proposed changes include increasing housing density in areas of Piedmont zoned for multi-family housing (Zone C) and commercial (Zone D).

The language submitted for approval will require the Council to review an annual report from the Piedmont Planning Department analyzing the number of units added to Piedmont’s housing stock and the number for low-income or very low-income occupants.  If the City Council does not find a sufficient number have been built, the Council commits to reduce requirements for Zones C (multi-family) and D (commercial) or ask the Piedmont voters to amend the City Charter to approve zoning changes to permit more housing units in Piedmont.

Barry Miller, Piedmont’s Housing Element consultant reports, “HCD suggested the City create additional incentives for multi-family development, such as prohibiting single family homes in the multi-family zoning district and raising the maximum lot coverage standard in the multi-family zone.”

The State’s pressure for increased housing comes at a time when the Piedmont Planning Commission and Piedmont City Council are reviewing plans for a rare, multifamily housing condominium development, located at 408 Linda Avenue below the Oakland Avenue Bridge, the site of the defunct PG&E substation. Despite language requiring low-income housing in the Piedmont General Plan, the City Council has taken no action requiring the multiple unit development to meet this low-income standard.

Applying State-wide Regulations to a Built-out City

For years the State has encouraged denser housing development in cities as the population of California grows. Yet, both Oakland, Piedmont’s large neighbor, and Piedmont have lost population since 2000. Piedmont is a unique, built-out city constrained by its borders, unlike many cities that can facilitate the development of new housing on available land.  Some California cities also have empty or abandoned commercial buildings adaptable to low income and emergency housing shelters, while Piedmont does not have that option. State laws are now forcing all cities to increase housing units in a blanket approach, regardless of geography, topography, geological constraints, existing density or voter enacted Charters and zoning laws.

Staff at the State office of Housing and Community Development (HCD) have pursued their charge of  implementing State statutes with persistence on an unfunded mandate.  Cities, including Piedmont, are expending significant amounts of staff and consultant time during the economic downturn to conform with State laws and are not reimbursed for the costs.

California law specifically states: “State law recognizes the vital role local governments play in the supply and affordability of housing. Each governing body (City Council or Board of Supervisors) of a local government in California is required to adopt a comprehensive, long-term general plan for the physical development of the city, city and county, or county. The housing element is one of the seven mandated elements of the local general plan. Housing element law, enacted in 1969, mandates that local governments adequately plan to meet the existing and projected housing needs of all economic segments of the community.” 

As of January 1, 2008, a new amendment to the State Housing Element Law, mandates that cities strengthen provisions to respond to the housing needs of the homeless by identifying a zone or zones where emergency shelters are a permitted use without a conditional use permit.

Miller provided a narrative of a difficult and dysfunctional relationship between Piedmont’s staff and State staff since 2010. Read staff report for June 6 City Council meeting.  Piedmont’s Housing Element update was to be undertaken by June 30, 2009.  See draft language related to the City Charter to be added to Piedmont’s Housing Element.

The process of working with the HCD is described below:

  • Revised Addendum submitted to the State on October 29, 2010.
  • Another revised Addendum was submitted on November 19, 2010 within 24 hours of a phone call from the State expressing further concerns.
  • HCD responded on December 1 that they still had additional concerns.
  • On December 3, Piedmont staff submitted another set of revisions to the Addendum, particularly responding to the State concern about the Piedmont City Charter.
  • Piedmont staff requested a meeting with HCD with no response for several weeks.
  • HCD sent the City of Piedmont an email on December 16 indicating State staff would draft language related to the City Charter to be added to Piedmont’s Housing Element.
  • The State draft of language came to Piedmont on February 23, 2011.  It implied  the City Charter prevented development of sufficient low income housing.
  • On March 10, 2011, Miller presented a counter-proposal to the HCD.  This was unacceptable to the State.
  • Piedmont staff again requested a meeting with no response.
  • On April 24, HCD contacted Miller and compromise language was worked out on the phone.
  • Piedmont staff requested written confirmation that the  agreed language would result in a “compliance determination”.
  • A pre-certification letter was received from HCD on May 10, 2011.

The HCD insists that one example of a constraint by the City Charter would be the failure of a ballot measure changing the City’s Zoning Map to exclude single family housing and allow higher density to accommodate more low income housing units.

Editors note: The Piedmont City Charter states: “The Council may classify and reclassify the zones established, but no existing zones shall be reduced or enlarged with respect to size or area, and no zones shall be reclassified without submitting the question to a vote at a general or special election.” (Section 9.02 of the Charter of the City of Piedmont,  as Amended March 2008))

The Experience of Other Cities in California

In contrast to the difficult relationship with the State as related by Miller, all the cities in some California counties (Calaveras, Del Norte, Glenn, Imperial, Inyo, Kings, Nevada, Yolo) received quick approval of their Housing Elements from HCD in 2009-10.  Meanwhile a number of small, affluent cities (Lafayette, Laguna Beach, San Clemente, Palm Desert, Del Mar, Woodside, Santa Barbara, Los Altos, Ross, San Marino) were “out of compliance” because the State rejected their Housing Elements. Some very expensive communities (Saratoga, Dana Point, Belvedere) with lower densities than Piedmont found successful strategies for quick approval. Belvedere and Mountain View successfully appealed their RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) as determined by the regional planning agency ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments).  Piedmont chose not to appeal the increased number of required housing units as specified in the RHNA.

Piedmont hoped its Housing Element Plan emphasizing the numerous expensive properties within the City would receive prompt approval and a letter of Full Compliance similar to that received by Mission Viejo and many other California communities.  It remains unknown if the State, with its drive for low to very-low income housing, found the more modest presentations of other community’s housing elements to be more acceptable.

Since 1907, when Piedmont became a Charter City, Piedmont voters have enacted zoning laws emphasizing the single-family residential character of the City.  The intervention by the State to coerce zoning changes presents a new challenge to planning processes and zoning stability within Piedmont.

Over the years the State has become more aggressive in pursuing an increased share of low and very-low income housing within the total housing mix, giving little consideration to population decreases, constrained borders, and lack of available facilities to accommodate additional housing units.

One Response to “Sacramento Demands More Low to Very-Low Income Housing Units in Piedmont”

  1. This has been an issue since I was with the first group to write the first General Plan in the early 1980’s. Why can’t Blair Park be used & keep piling multiple housing on lower Piedmont.

Leave a Comment