Jul 20 2014

Piedmont Charter and Zoning Set Aside Again?

– No environmental studies and little public input – 

With few questions by policy makers on short and long term impacts of housing increases in Piedmont, Piedmont’s Housing Element will likely become known to most homeowners when a neighbor develops an additional housing unit.

The City Council will consider the Housing Element Draft at their meeting on Monday, July 21, City Hall, Council Chambers starting at 7:30 p.m.  The meeting will be broadcast.  Cities are required to adopt Housing Elements to cover the period 2015-2023 by January 31, 2015.

Piedmont’s draft Housing Element is based on adding secondary units (apartments) within existing homes or allowing a second house to be build on properties in the single family residential zone.

Piedmont’s planning staff and consultant have performed no studies per the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)  to assess the impacts of increased housing on schools, public services, police, fire, parks, emergency, or recreational facilities.  CEQA is specifically required under State law.  Piedmont intends to approve a “Negative Declaration” for the CEQA requirement without the initial step of actual environmental studies.

Every 8 to 10 years the State comes out with new housing need projections which are divided up throughout the State by region. Some communities have no objection to the housing increases as developers and land owners are eager and ready to develop property. Piedmont has for a century kept inappropriate development at bay due to the City Charter and requirement of voter approval prior to zoning changes.  The result has been a well established, well maintained, viable city.

Piedmont is significantly constrained by the lack of available land and high property values.

The State’s current housing increase round will end on December 31, 2014, yet Piedmont has already exceeded its quota, approving 44 new units when its quota was 40 units. In addition, more applications for new dwelling units have been received by the City this year, so the excess could increase. For the State’s next round of housing increases for 2015 – 2023, Piedmont is required to provide the opportunity for 60 new housing units.

Piedmont has not only complied with the spirit and letter of the law, but has taken significant steps to increase housing units.

Piedmont’s origin was based on keeping Piedmont a single family residential area. This origin is reflected not only in Piedmont’s voter approved City Charter, but in the zoning laws controlling buildings and land use in Piedmont.

The State has preempted cities’ zoning laws by pressing for additional housing in every city. Being landlocked and built-out, is insufficient to relieve a city, such as Piedmont, from the demands of more and more housing particularly very low and low income housing. In an attempt to balance income levels within cities, perhaps for social engineering, Piedmont is being pressed to increase housing for very low and low income units.

Piedmont is noteworthy for its longevity as a city, its numerous historic homes, its economic viability, and quality of life.  The State law states that housing is to be maintained rather than eliminated, yet as the character of Piedmont changes due to enforced requirements from the State, will the city be able to continue the current quality of life?

The planning staff, Planning Commission, and City Council have accepted the State and regional goals.  Developers and public interest organizations have legally challenged cities that did not establish a pathway for increased housing units especially for very low  and low income individuals.

Despite declining populations in Piedmont and Oakland since 2000, Piedmont, responding to State demands, continues on its drive to increase housing units. On July 14, the Piedmont Planning Commission readily recommended to the Piedmont City Council a draft Housing Element to be forwarded to the State Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) staff as Piedmont’s working draft for preliminary review and comments. In the previous round, the draft Housing Element was modified to conform to DHCD staff suggestions.

Raising Piedmont’s profile with DHCD, Planning Director, Kate Black, and Piedmont outside consultant, Barry Miller, treated DHCD staff to a tour of  Piedmont.  Did the tour include any of the City’s many empty housing units? (The 2010 census recorded 123 unoccupied housing units in Piedmont and 6,718 in neighboring Oakland.)

Considering the danger posed by vacant housing units correlated with increased crime rates, Oakland and other cities have a program of demolition of vacant housing with federal funds. In March, 2014, the U.S. Treasury announced new funding of $30 million for housing demolition to avoid neighborhoods with vacancies becoming blighted.  Burglaries, arson, and drug-dealing are a few of the crimes associated with vacant housing.

Few comments on the draft Housing Element have come from Piedmont residents.

Several people attended the presentations on the Housing Element Planning Commission “work sessions”.  The “Town Hall style” meeting held in the Police Emergency Operations Center was attended by approximately 2 dozen residents most of whom had received personal letters from the Planning Department because they either resided in or owned a second unit.  No letters were specifically sent to property owners adjacent to or living near a second unit, who might have expressed pleasure or concerns.  The “Town Hall” meeting was not broadcast and the comments were not made available.

Unlike communities that can expand into undeveloped land, Piedmont is completely landlocked, surrounded by Oakland, with no room to expand.  Additionally, Piedmont’s very economic viability is established on its desirability as a place to purchase a home.  Piedmont has its own schools, police and fire departments and public services.  As more and more properties in Piedmont are subdivided or turned into duplexes per the State decrees, property values and willingness of voters to support extraordinarily high taxes comes into question.

Piedmonters, in general, favor providing housing for very low income individuals and others, however, some have expressed their desire to have this done in a manner that does not erode the character and stability of the City’s housing stock.

When the old PG&E building below and adjacent to the Oakland Avenue Bridge was sold for housing development, many thought this was an opportunity to address some regional housing goals.  Piedmont, however, did not take advantage of this opportunity.  The old PG&E site has some of the best access to Piedmont’s very limited public transportation bus routes.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends siting low income housing near available jobs, public transportation education, social services, and counseling. Piedmont is poorly served by public transportation and lacks social services.

Following are some questions posed:

Will Piedmont eventually become a city of multiple units, renters, and transient residents? Who will pay for the schools or will they be merged by the State with surrounding school districts?  Will property values continue to grow?   Will those desiring a single family residential area go elsewhere? Will City government and the School District need to grow to provide services found in other communities, such as social services?

There have been no long term assessments of services costs and the general impact of increased housing units in Piedmont.

The 2011 Housing Element created an exception to single family Zone A minimum lot size requirements to enable lot splitting. The current draft Housing Element identifies more than 10 properties in Zones A & E (Estate Zone) that could be split in order to add a second house to an existing lot.

Read the City Administrator’s report and the draft Housing Element. 


Comments may be communicated to the City Council:

Margaret Fujioka, Mayormfujioka@ci.piedmont.ca.us(510) 463-7821

Jeff Wieler, Vice Mayorjwieler@ci.piedmont.ca.us(510) 428-1648

Teddy Gray Kingtking@ci.piedmont.ca.us(510) 450-0890

Robert McBain, rmcbain@ci.piedmont.ca.us,(510) 547-0597

Tim Roodtrood@ci.piedmont.ca.us,   (510) 239-7663

2 Responses to “Piedmont Charter and Zoning Set Aside Again?”

  1. The draft Housing Element encourages the creation of “second units” in existing single family homes and even the rental/sub-rental of single rooms within existing homes. When a single family residence is converted in use to a rental unit, doesn’t that trigger a full reassessment to current market value under Prop 13? If so, is that a bug or a feature, from the perspective of the city officials?

  2. Mike Savage raises an important issue. If a full reassessment is triggered, the City and County will benefit by receiving additional ad valorem tax. No where have I heard this mandate being announced by the City of increased cost to homeowners.

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