Sep 13 2022

OPINION: SB9 Can Be a Housing Game Changer for Piedmont

Senate Bill 9 (SB9) can be a Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) Game Changer for Piedmont.

How so and are actions possible now?

The ADU  [Accessory Dwelling Unit] discussion in the Civic Discussion Forum has much of the insight needed to help implement the opportunity of ADUs in Piedmont with respect to political support needed to develop ADUs in Piedmont and help guide the ADU discussion to help save the downtown “look and feel” of Piedmont in general. Here are a few observations that hopefully adds to the expertise here.

First, Piedmont is essentially implementing the ministerial RHNA housing allocation without a revised Master Plan. The community knows that the math allocations do not add up to the values shared for our collective sense of “Piedmont”.  We also know that fellow community members such as teachers, police, community staff cannot afford to live in our city limits. We also know we need more time to articulate a new Master Plan that implements both Piedmont’s values we share, while increasing the supply of affordable housing we need.

Second, our Piedmont housing element acknowledges, “The 2008 General Plan Update is the first major Plan revision in 12 years. It looks ahead to a horizon year of 2025. Most of the work on the Plan update was completed over a 15-month period between April 2007 and July 2008.”; long before anyone had dreamed of RHNA or the need for affordable housing in Piedmont.

Question: Can Piedmont comply with RHNA and timing while committing to the time commitment needed to articulate a new Master Plan with a diverse community, without abandoning value, purpose and civic sense of place of Piedmont?

Let’s look at the RHNA math more closely.

•       The RHNA estimate is generally based on the average number of ADU building permits issued each year, “multiplied by eight (because there are eight years in a housing element cycle)”.
•       If numbers were low in 2019 but were high in 2020, 2021, and 2022, a given city jurisdiction could potentially use 2020-2022 as the baseline.
•       “A slightly larger number may be warranted if a robust, funded, and clear plan to increase production has been put in place.”

Again, the RHNA formula allows Piedmont to multiply our ADU units by a factor of 8 if these permits and the intentions and performance are real.

Suggested Goal for discussion:
How can Piedmont develop ADUs at the rate of 70 ADUs per year, beginning in 2022, for eight years.  But let’s also look at how we achieve the outcome of permitting 250 ADU units in less time and less money than the City’s spend on consulting fees to explain the RHNA math to its citizens.

Proposal for Discussion:
Piedmont’s permitting process is highly unusual. Most cities accept filed permits and terminate them after a very short period of time, say 18 months. However, Piedmont’s permits stay actively open indefinitely and pass on from respective homeowner to homeowner, until built or revised. Permits do not expire in Piedmont.

This unique process can be used to Piedmont’s advantage. This may help demonstrate and meet long-term goals for Piedmont’s ADU permitting count; and show immediate proof to the RHNA that Piedmont’s volume of ADUs complies with Piedmont’s RHNA quota. This approach could demonstrate policy results and buy time for a better Piedmont Master Plan.

If the City of Piedmont combines Piedmont’s unique permitting and permit process with a new “surged effort” to help the City enable low cost access for anyone who is considering building an ADU in the next 10 years, Piedmont can “hit its numbers.”  The City needs a new operations model with a concerted, coordinated, significant, programmatic design, budgeting and mass permitting of high quality ADUs.

Is the trade worth the hassle?  Is the needed change to the City Planning Operations and focus worth the reward to save us from knee jerk “numbers game” and buy Piedmont the time needed for a new Master Plan? Can we do a better job at coordinating the look and feel of Piedmont’s future?

The New RHNA Math may be possible if the City of Piedmont and its Planning Department creates a programmatic approach to design, permitting in a massive coordinated effort to plan and permit ADU’s within Piedmont.  Can the City help guide or retain a prepaid pool of consulting architects and builders to provide easy, low cost planning access to anyone in Piedmont who wants to build an ADU in Piedmont in the next 10 years, without penalty for changing plans?

These systems exist in other venues – is it worth the trade of the hassle here in Piedmont for the results?

If Piedmont homeowners take the time and also have access to simple resources to help develop their respective ADUs, even if it takes 10 years to save, plan and build … or sell the opportunity to the next homeowner …  legitimate RHNA permits counts are possible. The housing opportunity is real.

By this new math, Piedmont needs at a peak initiative 20 residents per week to participate in affordable designs and permits approved per week for the next 4 months to reach 250 Permitted ADU permits.

The RHNA math only demands 70 permits to extrapolate Piedmont’s 8-year trend, but Piedmont can do better. On average, the building California City building departments provide comments to completed ADU applications in 10 days. The design standards are already set in Piedmont. Let’s change that to 30 approvals per every 10 days if the applicants are among the Petition of 1,000 signatures of concerned citizens.

John Cheney, Lincoln Avenue, Piedmont

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

2 Responses to “OPINION: SB9 Can Be a Housing Game Changer for Piedmont”

  1. The ADU numbers in the current Housing Element are probably an underestimate. Averaging 20/year during COVID, the number of annual ADU applications going forward will probably exceed that. How many applications have there been in 2022?

    The real potential for SB9 to generate new housing in Piedmont is through lot splits, another ministerial program that is going unaccounted for in the 6th cycle. In accordance with HCD guidance, other cities jumped on this potential – Belvidere, Atherton, Woodside – by conducting resident surveys and collected data that is being used to project new SB9 housing during the next cycle. To my knowledge HCD has not passed judgement on these projections but by not doing so Piedmont is forcing development into other neighborhoods. SB9 was passed to address single-family zoning, the biggest impediment to new housing in California. It’s remarkable that it is being unaccounted for in Piedmont, almost exclusively zoned single-family. Perhaps the next Council will look into this.

  2. Yes, SB9 has a lot of potential to modestly increase density all over town without significantly affecting the character of the community. I’d speculate that allowing duplexes and TICs [Tenants in Common] will have more potential for additional DUs [Dwelling Units] than actual lot splits. There aren’t that many lots big enough to split, and the placement of the existing house will often make a split less feasible.

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