Jul 30 2022

OPINION: Democracy Calls for Voters Deciding Housing

I have lived in Piedmont 46 years. I have seen a lot of change, but nothing like what Sacramento is now forcing on communities around the state because they know better than us about how we should live our lives..

The City Charter should not be changed by a Bureaucratic decision. I believe the City’s leaders should honor the Charter and let the citizens decide this. It is painful to watch our elected leaders trying to circumvent the very citizens who elected them and paying for “outside counsel” opinions to justify it. I predict there will be expensive litigation and the only people who will benefit from this litigation — no matter how it comes out — will be the lawyers — not the citizens of Piedmont.

This is a “State’s Rights” issue on the State level. Do local communities have the right to decide the nature of their community or does Sacramento have the power to force their current fad down people’s throats by threatening economic sanctions because “they know better?” Maybe people in small communities who don’t like the heavy hand of big brother should stop paying their State income taxes and give the money directly to their local government to make up for the money Sacramento is threatening to withhold. Would the immediate loss of revenue and the cost and optics of Sacramento prosecuting hundreds of thousands of California citizens for not paying their taxes get anybody’s attention in Sacramento? I really wish I knew the answer to that question.

The population of California is headed for 40 million and we are running out of water and the State is burning — losing housing actually. So we really have a “population crisis.” But the fad in Sacramento among our progressive majority is that we have a “housing crisis” and the solution is to create more housing so the population can keep increasing. No plans to build more reservoirs or other sources of water except for the multi-billion dollar plan to transfer water from the North to the South which does nothing to increase overall water supply and merely allows the population to increase in an area where there is not enough water to naturally support that increase and prevent growth in the areas where the water is naturally located.

So Sacramento’s current fad envisioned by Scott Weiner from San Francisco, is to force ADUs on all communities or to allow people to tear down their house and build a fourplex almost anywhere — basically first steps to turn residential communities into little Manhattan’s. I’m not aware of any analysis that has been done to evaluate the ADU idea, but the typical ADU is very small and I very seriously doubt that most ADUs in small communities like Piedmont will be low cost rentals. My anecdotal observation is that only people who can afford it are building them and they are not going to be low cost rentals to complete strangers who are going to be living in the middle of their back yard. They will be used for in-laws or nannies or some other purpose. Tearing down a house and building a fourplex in Piedmont generally does not work out financially, so our Planning Department is so desperate for ADUs, building an ADU is an excellent way to get approval for anything else you want to do to your property. If I wanted to tear down my classic craftsman house and build a fourplex, I could probably get approval to put a miniature oil refinery in my back yard. (Note to Planning Department: I’m just joking.)

And so, to please Sacramento, Piedmont’s leaders want to change parks and tennis courts and pubic buildings, valuable amenities in any community, into apartment buildings. I think this is regressive for local communities.

I believe our City leaders and Planning Department should let the citizens decide and not work so hard to circumvent them and, if they decide to disagree with Sacramento, to support their citizens — not fight them. If the citizens of Piedmont vote to approve these changes, I will disagree with them, but I will accept the result because I believe in the concept of Democracy.

James Penrod, Piedmont Resident

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

2 Responses to “OPINION: Democracy Calls for Voters Deciding Housing”

  1. I agree with Mr. Penrod that the source of Piedmont’s housing dilemma is Sacramento and also ABAG (Assn. of Bay Area Governments), which dictated our 587 units requirement, apparently with little or no regard to WHERE these units could be built in the next 8 years. Kevin Jackson has pointed out that the Housing Element is a “high-level plan” and does not include environmental or other impacts on the proposed sites. But isn’t this hypocritical? Why include civic buildings and parks where construction certainly would have significant impacts? Maybe it’s time to tell Sacramento and ABAG to face the facts and the unintended consequences of their draconian plan.

  2. To Mr. Penrod’s comments about ADU’s, I am not aware of an analysis of the effectiveness of ADUs for providing housing to new residents. The city could develop a nominal program to do so – requirement of a business license to operate the rental, documentation of rental payments, etc. Staff has implied it does not have the authority and claims any new housing is better than none, even if for in-laws.

    Seven of 70 ADU were deed-restricted low income rentals under the previous Housing Element. HE 6 predicts about 140 ADU in the next cycle and incentivizes low income rental by allowing the height of garage conversions to rise to 24 feet. This allows for a two- story ADU with a unit above the garage. There will be no design review for the impact on neighbor privacy and light with these new units – they are subject to the same rapid review by planning as current ADU.

    I think MR. Pernod is correct- many ADU are just work-arounds by the property owner to avoid design review. The planning department will have to do a better job of affirming these units are rented in the next cycle.

Leave a Comment