May 22 2022

OPINION: Inequitable Moraga Canyon Focus for Low and Very Low Income Housing

Required low and very low income housing units appear concentrated in and around the city corporation yard in Moraga Canyon in the City proposed Housing Element.

An open letter to the Piedmont City Council,

Sadly, Piedmont has a well-documented history of using restrictive covenants to exclude non-white families, and of using city resources to force them from the community. But we now have an opportunity to redress those wrongs because state law requires California cities to find sites on which developers can build housing for low-income households.  To avoid yet again using city power to exclude, segregate, and stigmatize residents, current City of Piedmont policy is to “Support equitable distribution of affordable units across the City.” Working to comply with the law, city staff has unveiled a draft list of sites that mostly complies with the policy of equitable distribution although 100 of the 200 or so required units appear concentrated in and around the city corporation yard in Moraga Canyon. 

Your decision on whether, and how, to change the sites before sending the list to the State will reveal Piedmonters’ values to witnesses, including our children, to your choices.  Your most telling choice will be whether you comply with your stated policy of “equitable distribution of affordable units across the city.” Equitable distribution has become an issue because public comment includes the recommendation that the Council reassign low-income units from elsewhere in Piedmont to Blair Park across Moraga Avenue from the 100 units already assigned to the corporation yard.

Blair Park is a former landfill exposed to levels of noise and air pollution among the worst in the city, where pedestrians and bicyclists regularly encounter speeding vehicles with drivers whose sight corridors are limited by the curvature and slope of Moraga Avenue.  Indeed, the danger inherent in crossing Moraga Avenue proved so unacceptable that a plan to locate soccer fields in Blair Park a decade ago had to be abandoned.  No scheme, including those with pedestrian bridges and “traffic calming,” sufficiently reduced the danger, particularly for children, to warrant moving forward. The Safer Streets Plan you adopted only six months ago states, moreover, that “The Moraga Avenue/Red Rock Road location has been removed from the 2014 list (i.e., of pedestrian safety improvements) because of feasibility issues in providing adequate pedestrian access in Blair Park…”

An objective observer aware of Piedmont’s sad history and of the suggestion to locate nearly all the State-required units in Moraga Canyon, including 50 or more in Blair Park, could reasonably conclude that we had reverted to our exclusionary past.  Indeed, stigmatizing low-income families by isolating them in Blair Park would reek of a history decent Piedmonters regret.

I live in Moraga Canyon and endorse the staff recommendation that the corporation yard be made available for a large share of the low-income housing Piedmont must accommodate to comply with law.  But as a Piedmonter who believes that our shameful history compels us to act in accordance with our current inclusionary policies, I object to leaving open the possibility of reassigning units now shown elsewhere in Piedmont to Blair Park. Such a reassignment would amount to nothing more than a cynical reversion to the despicable exclusionary policies of the last century.  The Council should honor the current policy of equitable distribution and explicitly reject such reassignment.


Ralph Catalano, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

3 Responses to “OPINION: Inequitable Moraga Canyon Focus for Low and Very Low Income Housing”

  1. Not in your backyard, but in someone else’s?

  2. Mr. Roberts,
    As I wrote in my letter to the City Council, I believe my backyard, which is the city corporation yard, should accommodate a large share of the 210 proposed units. City staff proposes 100 units which sounds reasonable.

    How many of the remaining 111 units would you endorse for your backyard? Or would you rather put them all in Blair Park, the most stigmatized and dangerous area of the city?

  3. It’s pretty easy to look at Blair Park and say put housing there. On paper it makes sense but Mr. Catalano raises known limitations of the Blair Park site that heretofore have not been considered in the development of the Housing Element. Hopefully these will be addressed in the EIR being developed for the Housing Element which hopefully will be released before the June public meetings on the draft Housing Element. The Corporation Yard, while more expensive to develop than Blair Park, does offer a better setting for housing than Blair Park.

    It’s also pretty easy to play the NIMBY card. Mr. Catalano’s main point is that affordable housing be put in ALL our backyards. Based on the Blair Park projection, 200 of 267 low and very low affordable units will occur on that site. The rest are projected to come from deed-restricted ADU’s developed under the new Housing Element, a questionable assumption given that the City has no authority to ensure that such properties are in fact rented to low-income tenants. For example, the City has no measure of how many of the 70 ADU developed under the current Housing Element are in fact rented out.

    The Lisa Wise consultant has implied that the Housing Element achieves equitable distribution because all of the city is “high opportunity”. That’s planning jargon to say that great services and amenities are equally distributed throughout the city so housing developed anywhere in Piedmont will share equally in those benefits. In Piedmont those benefits are walkable access to the Civic Center, schools and play fields, great access to mass transit, quiet low-traffic neighborhoods. When “equitable distribution” is considered in this light, Mr. Catalano has a point – massing all the city’s affordable housing in Blair Park would look pretty cynical, given how few of these benefits apply to Blair Park.

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