Atherton: City reluctant to create ‘plan B’ in case housing element is rejected | New

With the affluent city of Atherton planning a record number of new homes over the next eight years, the city council chose not to form an ad hoc committee to help create draft housing plans.

Council members said during a Sept. 6 study session that they didn’t want to undermine the city’s preliminary plan — devoting about 80 percent of its state-mandated housing targets to secondary suites ( ADU) – by assigning a group to mount with alternative projects.

City council, which expects feedback on the plan in early October, has asked staff to hold a community meeting in late September or early October to gather more feedback from residents on how to plan for the additional 348 homes.

“I think we’ve come up with a very solid plan,” council member Elizabeth Lewis said of the draft item.

The city’s 2023-2031 regional housing need allocation has increased significantly since the last eight-year cycle, when it was allocated only 93 units.

The state’s so-called duplex law, Senate Bill 9, requires local agencies to grant ministerial approval to certain lot divisions and allow up to two master units on each resulting lot with setbacks minimal sides and rear. The city has seen 11 owners interested in such lot divisions since the law took effect in January, Vice Mayor Bill Widmer said.

The city decided in late July to rely on ADUs and SB 9 lot splits to meet its state-mandated housing needs following a council decision to remove multi-family housing overlays plan. He submitted his plan to the state in early August.

Mayor Rick DeGolia had suggested that a residents’ committee could also help the city assess construction activities in the city and help develop possible mitigation measures to address noise, timing, parking and other issues.

“This is a city project and commitment and we need the community to be involved in it,” Widmer said. The city held a community meeting on the housing component in April.

Council members have spoken out against considering other housing options until they get input from the state, despite comments from a housing advocate and council member that the city ​​should be prepared to come up with other plans.

Lewis noted that if the city talked about a plan B with multi-family overlays, it would undermine its current plan.

Widmer said residents could weigh in on the alternatives at a community meeting, but he didn’t feel comfortable offering other plans before then.

Council member Diana Hawkins-Manuelian disagreed.

“If it was me, I would think of plans A, B and C,” she said. “But we want to support what we have. When do we do plan B if we get bad feedback?”

Council member Bob Polito said he doesn’t think the city plan is necessarily as feasible or community-friendly as other council members think.

“As I have said in previous meetings, I believe that a handful of well-planned, high-quality multi-family projects would be much better for the town of Atherton than the plan we are currently supporting,” he said. declared on Wednesday, September 7. E-mail. “Trying to meet the state’s requirement of 348 new homes through SB 9 lot splits and (literally) hundreds of new ADUs with as little as a 4-foot setback from a neighboring property will result in negative consequences throughout the city that go far beyond anyone realizes…. That being said, I will be supporting my fellow council members in the course we are currently on until the state reject our submission.

The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) has significantly increased its staff since Governor Gavin Newsom increased the department’s budget to nearly $9 million in fiscal year 2021-22, creating a housing responsibility unit of 25 staff. During this fiscal year, 40 new employees were added, for a total of 1,328 HCD employees.

Atherton Town Manager George Rodericks said planning contractors in the town had heard that these new staff dealing with housing issues were from pro-housing groups.

“So they’re stacking the decks,” Lewis said.

HCD has confirmed that it has received the project item from the city, but the city has not yet received a reviewer, city planner Lisa Costa Sanders said. The city expects a phone call from the department with verbal comments 60 days after submission and a letter 90 days after submission.

Rodericks noted that the state pays attention to comments from third-party groups, like the Housing Leadership Council, given that it included comments from housing advocacy group Housing Leadership Council in their comments on the housing element project. of Redwood City, which was rejected by the state. beginning of July.

Jeremy Levine, policy manager for the Housing Leadership Council, told the council at the meeting that it was important to look at the housing element not just as a way to comply with the law, but to really try to meet the housing needs in Atherton. He urged officials to think that pre-school teachers, gardeners and municipal workers are excluded from the area.

“You need a strategy to not only license ADUs, but also get affordable, deed-restricted ADUs that are in the rental market,” he said. “There are many ways to minimize the impacts of multi-family housing.”

Housing has been so scarce in the Bay Area that school districts in San Francisco and Milpitas have asked families to volunteer to house teachers.

Other schools are taking a different approach: building accommodation for their staff. The Jefferson Union High School District, which serves communities such as Pacifica and Daly City, recently built 122 units to house its teachers.

The San Mateo County Community College District is building 30 homes at Skyline College in San Bruno, according to the district’s website. The district has discussed building more workforce housing at Cañada College in Woodside, but lacks the funds to do so.

Atherton’s draft housing plan includes housing for faculty and staff on local school campuses, but the city needs to be more proactive if it wants that to happen, Hawkins-Manuelian said. There are funding grants for housing construction that the city should look into, she noted.

She said she spoke with schools in Atherton, like Selby Lane School, but learned the city will have to go through the San Mateo County Office of Education.

“We have to somehow get into the pipeline,” she said.

Atherton is including some 40 units of new housing at Menlo College on El Camino Real over the next eight years to meet its state-mandated housing production. Units and parking would likely cost the private four-year-old $20 million, which the school does not have, President Steve Weiner said.

College officials have suggested that the city could meet the cost of building housing and parking on campus by identifying a new source of funding, possibly by issuing bonds. Rodericks said in an email that while “no solution is on the table,” the city is not actively considering a public bond issue in support of affordable housing.

Powerful tech moguls who live in Atherton have written that they don’t want to see townhouses built.

The Atlantic published a story in early August about venture capitalist and Atherton resident Marc Andressen’s letter to the city, saying he and his wife, philanthropist Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, were extremely opposed to the designation of multi-family housing overlays in the city. This is despite his essay just two years ago in which he argued for building more housing in the Bay Area.

Other publications like The New York Times followed with stories about other Atherton tech leaders who wrote to the city opposing construction beyond single-family lots.

Mayor DeGolia would like the city to start collecting statements of intent from residents who are considering building ADUs to show the state that the proposed numbers in his element are legitimate.

DeGolia acknowledged the importance of the item to the city during the meeting, noting that he received more responses on this topic than on any other during his nine years on the council.

“This is the biggest problem for our city over the next 18 months,” he said.

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