Aug 28 2022

OPINION: Compromise Not Rancor on Housing

Bring us all together instead of pitting neighborhood against neighborhood.

I sense growing anxiety in the community over the decisions being made of where to accommodate 587 units of new housing.

What would greatly reduce this anxiety, in my opinion, would be to have details of the suggested plans along with their locations, ie, how many stories will there be? what will the buildings look like on the outside?  will they be duplexes, attached condos, high rise apartments buildings?

Yet another way to reduce this anxiety would be to understand that for Piedmont to reach its goals, a compromise needs to be found so that the distribution of new housing will be borne by the whole community not one neighborhood. 

If our goal is to help solve the housing crises, let us be equitable with each other as well as those that need affordable housing.  Please find a mediator to bring us all together instead of pitting neighborhood against neighborhood.

Karen P Harley, Piedmont Resident

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

5 Responses to “OPINION: Compromise Not Rancor on Housing”

  1. Adding to the anxiety are the 11th hour changes being made to the Housing Element based on some last minute feasibility assessments of public sites that should have been done much sooner in the process. HE Session 101 was mostly about multi-story design guidelines and ADUs, two elements that should have been secondary to the site inventory.

    Examples of what some of the buildings could look like are available at minute 49 of the following presentation:

    Karen raises an interesting point about the distribution of housing being born by the whole community. Equitable distribution of low income housing was a guiding principle of the 5th Housing Element cycle (even if irrelevant) but that resolution was not re-adopted by the current City Council. Instead it seems to have been replaced by the concept of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (a state mandate) and high opportunity zones (an HCD concept) that, as I understand it, leads to the conclusion that segregated housing cannot occur in Piedmont because the high opportunities (great schools, public safety and amenities like parks) serve all of town; hence any housing site is equally benefited and cannot be considered segregated.

    But that ignores Karen’s point that the burden of new development be born by the community as well as the benefit of having the new low income housing distributed throughout the community. As the Housing Element now stands, more than 70% (320) of the proposed new housing is either in Moraga Canyon, on Grand Ave between Linda and the city limits or at isolated sites on Park Blvd or Olive Avenue.

    There is a way for the city to achieve more equitable distribution of new housing but staff and the consultant have steadfastly refused to consider it – SB9. The by-right subdivision of lots this new law allows will generate new housing over the 8 years whether staff acknowledges it now or not. By not accounting for it now, the city is forced to project more housing into Moraga Canyon and Ace Hardware.

  2. Thank you Karen Harley! I completely agree, let’s work together in a constructive and reasonable way to distribute both the benefits and burdens of new housing throughout the city.

    I also agree that a clearer explanation of what is being proposed would help. For example the City is NOT proposing to allow high-rise housing (i.e. buildings greater than six stories) in Piedmont. Yet I’ve heard some neighbors raising the specter of such buildings taking over the entire Civic Center or Blair Park.

    Another clarification that might help to tamp down anxiety is what the Housing Element does and doesn’t do. The Housing Element is a state mandate requiring cities to change their zoning to create and identify more CAPACITY for housing. It does not require cities to BUILD all their allocated units. Just because you zone to allow something, doesn’t mean it will happen.

    Personally, I do think that more housing can and should be built in Piedmont. But given market conditions and the many constraints, including the lack of available land, realistically if we can get to 300-400 units, including some homes that are more affordable than what’s currently available–I would count that as a win.

    We should be having conversations about what we can reasonably build, and where, rather than arguing with each other about how to fend off maximum scenarios that have no chance of being realized, or that aren’t even being proposed.

  3. Better communication has been raised throughout the HE discussion. But how? The city tried some novel and modern communication tools typically not used in Piedmont and it should be evaluated how theses methods worked. The real-time surveys done during the workshops, the dedicated website, the “puzzle” – were these effective? From my experience in the workshops, they rushed discussion in what was usually a time-constrained meeting. The city has or will hire a communications director – perhaps that person will review the effectiveness of HE outreach and communication.

  4. The task is clear. We need to find 5 reasonably dispersed sites on which about 40 low and very low income units can be built.

    I suggest two such sites at either extreme of what the staff refers to as the “Corp Yard” corridor. These could be part of a new, larger, well-planned neighborhood that would include many of the market rate units required by the HE (this, by the way, is my “back yard”).

    The two sites staff has identified along the Grand Avenue corridor also make good sense. That leaves one site. The obvious site was the tennis courts in central Piedmont. The Council, for reasons as yet poorly articulated, took that site of the table. As an alternative, I suggest using the Highland Way right of way. These 5 sites would require taking no parks, would minimize segregation, and present relatively few political and physical impediments.

  5. Appreciate your “yimbyism” Ray. Can you elaborate on your idea for the additional sites in the Corp Yard?

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