Oct 26 2014

Will Piedmonters Like Their New Housing Element?

When long standing zoning restrictions are set aside, will Piedmonters be happy?

The draft Piedmont General Plan Housing Element has been written largely to satisfy the State, while avoiding law suits for noncompliance. 

Under the document, significant control of Piedmont zoning will potentially be removed from voters and placed in the hands of the City Council and the staff Council relies on.

The Planning Commission will meet on Thursday, October 30, 2014, at 5:00 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers to hold a public hearing on the state-mandated Draft Housing Element and consider recommendations to the Piedmont City Council.  The far-reaching draft document, intended to increase housing in Piedmont, has passed muster with State reviewers.

The Draft Housing Element, covering a planning period between 2015 and 2023, is voluminous and requires careful thought and consideration. Surprises are found throughout the document, such as a suggestion to require the City to approve applications within 30 days rather than the State required 60 days.  On some occasions, neighbors have found even 60 days are tight when responding to applications for major new construction next door.

The voter controlled Piedmont City Charter, a mainstay of zoning stability in Piedmont, is challenged in the Draft Housing Element by potential future independent reviewers looking for encumbrance to housing development within the City Charter.

Piedmont has approximately 4,000 residences and 11,000 residents.

Some California cities have balked at the State imposed requirements and delayed implementation or come up with stringent requirements for development to fend off undesired changes.  For example, some cities have required increased setbacks when building second units. In contrast, Piedmont has been less demanding of second unit applications, relaxing requirements, such as off-street parking and set backs.

Piedmont’s 20 year planning consultant, Barry Miller, has built a reputation within the planning community for using second units as a way to meet affordable housing needs.  Piedmont’s planning has been in line with his concepts.

Miller and the planning staff have accommodated the State including inviting officials to view first hand the limited opportunities for increased housing in Piedmont. As a built out city with no ability to expand, development potential is extremely limited in Piedmont.

 Few Piedmonters have reviewed the the Draft Housing Element.

The California State Law requires citizen participation when developing a Housing Element. The Planning Commission was designated by the City Council as the citizen body to review the Draft Housing Element.  At meetings where the draft was discussed there have been few participants. The “Town Hall Style” meeting, was held without public broadcast and recordings and was largely intended to spur on support for second units.

The City Council, circumventing the City Charter, has not placed recent zoning changes on a Piedmont ballot for voter validation and approval per the City Charter. Comprehensive public involvement in zoning changes could be achieved by placing the matters on a Piedmont ballot. The State law allows such an action.  The City has avoided allowing voters to act in fear of zoning change rejection.

Piedmont’s Housing Element is built on more second-units.  

Without taking money out of its own coffers, California, in an effort to increase affordable and low-income housing, passed  legislation requiring cities, even Charter Cities such as Piedmont, to allow second-units in single-family zones.  The Piedmont City Charter states that only the voters of Piedmont can change zoning, designating areas for housing as single-family or multiple family.

Each California city is required to define the conditions for allowing second units within single family zones.  Piedmont has done this.  If an application comes to the Planning Department meeting all conditions for a second unit, then the Planning Department is required to approve the second unit application under a “ministerial act;” neighbors are not notified and the Planning Commission has no jurisdiction over the application.

If a second unit application cannot meet ALL criteria for “ministerial” approval, the Planning Commission has the responsibility to consider the matter; neighbors are notified; and all conditions regarding the application are considered, such as safety, variances, privacy, light and air, etc.

As housing in Piedmont changes, the question remains:  Will the implementation measures proposed for the 2015- 2023 time period please Piedmonters?

Some of the proposed policies will reduce public involvement and make it easier for development.  The City Council previously rezoned the Commercial Zone to allow “mixed use,” a combination of commercial use and apartments on the same property.   Despite the City Charter, no attempt was made to place the matter before voters.

Piedmont’s City Attorney opposed the established description of single family and multi-family housing in the Commercial Zone, concluding single family and multi-family housing were synonymous. Yet language approved by voters had defined single family and multi-family zoning as separate and different.  The preemptive action by the Council overstepped City Charter language that requires Piedmont voters to consider zoning changes.

The Draft Housing Element policies presented are often onerous to property owners and possibly punitive to nearby properties.  From fees to variances, Piedmonters will find their city changing.   The future will show if the General Plan Housing Element will be used as a rigid requirement or as a working document meeting current needs and desires of the residents of Piedmont.

The related Initial Study and Negative Declaration pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act will be heard at the Planning Commission meeting of November 10, 2014.

Read the Oct. 1, 2014 “Clean” version of the proposed plan here.  Chapters noted below.

Read comments from the California Department of Housing and Community Development  and Piedmont’s responses as incorporated into the Housing Element.

Timeline for final approval of Housing Element:

  • October 30, 2014 – Planning Commission Hearing
  • December 1, 2014 – City Council Hearing
  • January 31, 2015 – Final Housing Element due to State Department of Housing and Community Development

The Planning Commission meeting is on Thursday, October 30, 2014, starting at 5 p.m. It will be televised on KCOM Channel 27 and live streamed on the City website. The meeting is open to the public and interested individuals may address the Planning Commission.

The Director of Planning, Kate Black has requested the following:

Send comments to me at kblack@ci.piedmont.ca.us, * send
them via US mail to Planning Commission, c/o Kate Black, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611, or drop them off at City Hall.
Kate Black, Planning Director, City of Piedmont, 120 Vista Avenue
Piedmont, CA 94611 – 510-420-3063
“To insure full compliance with the Brown Act, we ask that you not reply to all, but reply only to me. Thank you.” *< This statement comes from Kate Black, Director of Planning.

*Editors’ Note: Correspondence sent to the Planning Director needs to specify that it is for ALL Commissioners or Council members to ensure the correspondence is not exempt from the Brown Act or the Public Records Act. 

2 Responses to “Will Piedmonters Like Their New Housing Element?”

  1. The Housing Element document is quite complex. The reality is that staff has worked with the consultant to forge a path of compliance for Piedmont with the State’s stringent requirements and resident input will be listened to and then ignored unless that input is in harmony with the position taken by the City. Given the built-out nature and affluent quality of Piedmont, thoughtfully done second units are likely the only way the City can comply. Fortunately City Hall has been clever in creating the possibility of second units, which is all that is needed, and there has not been a flood of second units.

  2. Rick has it right more than the author in the PCA piece. Showing a good-faith effort to try to provide more affordable housing has a great value. We will not be a target for affordable housing advocates looking for the most exclusionary/elitist city to sue. I know from personal experience that there are motivated housing advocates, but they have limited litigation resources. There are cities that have thumbed their noses at the Housing Element requirements and suffered.

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