Woodside works on affordable housing; councilman pushes back
Staff in Woodside Town Hall are at work resolving three high-priority items among the town's affordable housing obligations to the state. One member of the Town Council is less than happy about it.
State law requires cities and towns, through the mechanism of zoning, to plan for housing for people of moderate and low incomes, even in communities such as Woodside with its seven-figure median home price. In San Mateo County, a moderate income is around $86,500 for an individual and $123,600 for a family of four, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
This law does not require that the homes be built — and the town meets most of its obligations with second units — but the law does specify sanctions available if a group advocating for affordable housing successfully sues over inaction. Woodside is in little danger as it has a plan certified by the HCD. But there are loose ends.
When Town Manager Kevin Bryant introduced the topic for discussion at the Sept. 25 council meeting, Councilman Tom Shanahan, a regular critic of government regulation, responded: "I don't think this is of interest to this community other than complying with the law. Is there any effort on the part of San Mateo County to push back?"
There is not. Affordable housing is an issue between a town and the state. But Councilman Dave Burow chanted, "Shanahan for supervisor, Shanahan for supervisor." A vote of support for Mr. Shanahan's views? No, Mr. Burow told the Almanac. He said he was suggesting that if Mr. Shanahan wanted to change a policy, he should run for higher office.
"The notion of affordable housing is a good idea," Mr. Burow added. "I'm not sure the best idea is to force it on a town."
The council was reacting to a staff report by Woodside Senior Planner Licinia Ramalho McMorrow that lists 22 affordable housing obligations, broadly worded by the state, and supposed to be accomplished by January 2014.
The tepid enthusiasm for these mandates continued with Councilman Peter Mason. "I'm not sure how much of this stuff we really want to do," he said. Asked later to elaborate, he said he was referring to low-priority items such as a program to promote energy efficient housing. The town has taken care of that already in the general plan in a chapter devoted to sustainability, he said.
Of the 22 obligations, the report shows six as complete, eight as ongoing (and likely to remain so), and eight more incomplete. Three of those have high priorities:
• "Provide opportunities for multi-family housing." The town is in a conversation with Canada College about having more apartments built on campus for faculty and staff.
• "Promote affordable housing opportunities for persons with disabilities of all types, not limited to physical disabilities." Amend the municipal code to update the definition of "family" and include under the umbrella of the term "disability" people with mental or psychiatric limitations.
• "Provide for emergency shelter and transitional housing (for the recently incarcerated)." Amend the municipal code to allow such housing without requiring a conditional use permit.
"We have to show progress," Ms. Ramalho McMorrow said.
A new seven-year period begins in 2014 with a new set of obligations from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) on behalf of HCD.
Woodside will be expected to plan for 62 new residences for lower income residents. Most would be second units. Of these, 23 would be for very low incomes (defined in Woodside as relatives and college students), 13 for low incomes (employees living on site), 15 for moderate incomes (in cottages and apartments at Canada College), and 11 more for above-moderate incomes.
In an interview, Mr. Shanahan noted that he was "not fully informed" on affordable housing and reminded this reporter of his dim views, as a council candidate, of government spending, particularly when it involves an unfunded mandate.
"I don't think that government should strive for a profit," he said. "I do think that government should strive for efficiency."
The housing mandates, he said, show a bureaucracy responding to pressures that existed in the 1990s, when jobs were plentiful and housing was not. "I see a whole agency that is involved with the counting of units, an agency whose mission has become overgrown with rules and regulations," he said.
Today, there are "ghost towns" in the Central Valley, he said. Should people who earn moderate incomes in San Mateo County then go to the Central Valley to find affordable homes? "Over time, do not things adjust?" he replied. "That's why a lot of those units were built in the Central Valley. ... A lot of people here have made an individual decision to do that."
Building affordable housing in San Mateo County will exacerbate the housing glut, he said. Developers in the Central Valley are crying out: "I have empty buildings that are deteriorating. I need people," he said.
"In the great scheme of things, can we afford to keep doing these things? Something's got to give in the state of California."
What about the hours commuting? Clean air mandates drove up the price of gas and now the state has high unemployment and a terrible credit rating. "If we have the cleanest air in the world and have no more IBM plants in San Jose, how do all the people in IBM feel about that? ... It's good that we have clean air, but (the state} has to become competitive again. Can we spend less on affordable housing so that we can be more competitive?"
Besides, he added, "Silicon Valley is rapidly turning into a headquarters town," like Manhattan or Hollywood.