State mandates loom, but where will housing be built? | News | Almanac Online |


State mandates loom, but where will housing be built?


Portola Valley has been struggling to increase the number of affordable housing units within the town limits.

In an effort to increase the affordable housing stock, the Town Council passed an accessory dwelling unit ordinance in March that allows homeowners to add on to or remodel their homes to permit more residents on their properties.

The town has also formed partnerships with Stanford University, Woodside Priory School and the Sequoias retirement community to encourage the building of "affiliated" housing units on their properties within town limits.

As a third avenue, the town has been weighing the use of land that it owns for affordable housing, but it has been coming up against opposition from some neighborhoods to building on the town-owned land that is available.

Some are demanding that the town try to raise money to buy land on the open market to build the housing in areas where there wouldn't be an environmental or aesthetic impact, although town leaders have said that this is not feasible.

Although Portola Valley is meeting current affordable housing requirements, there is some anxiety because the state appears poised to increase pressure to build more, council member Maryann Derwin said in a phone interview.

Derwin pointed to a recent edict from Gov. Gavin Newsom indicating that the current laxity in requiring cities and towns to produce enough affordable housing will soon be ending.

Newsom recently announced a proposal that would have to pass the state Legislature, which would allow California to sue cities that don't meet their housing goals and allow the courts to impose monthly penalties from $10,000 to $600,000, depending on the size of the community, for failure to comply.

"If a city hasn't met its numbers, they have a year to get their act together, and if they still haven't met the goal, they will be subject to the fines," Derwin wrote in an email.

"If a city doesn't pay (the fines), the state would cut off any revenue owed to that city," she added. "In Portola Valley, we finance our road maintenance with state money so that would be devastating."

The next cycle of the state Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), which contains guidelines for meeting affordable housing needs in different income categories, begins in 2023.

Derwin said that in the new cycle, the state could require cities and towns to not just plan for affordable housing, but to actually show that the housing is being built, a statement that Portola Valley Planning and Building Director Laura Russell agreed with.

The current RHNA cycle is spread over eight years, but the state could move to a four-year cycle for a city or town if it doesn't meet its affordable housing goals on time, Derwin wrote.

"Everyone's RHNA requirement will increase by 20% to 25% or more, and there will be increased scrutiny of every aspect of a city's housing element," said Josh Abrams of Baird + Driskell Community Planning in Berkeley, which advises San Mateo County communities about affordable housing issues, including Portola Valley. (A housing element is the portion of a city's general plan that lays out its vision for future residential development.)

Portola Valley is also considering joining a "subregion" of 20 cities and counties to work together on meeting the RHNA requirements, a strategy it has used in the past, Derwin wrote.

"But since trading is not permitted between jurisdictions this time around, it may not make sense to form a subregion," she wrote.

Trading allows a city to let another city or jurisdiction take on all or a part of another city's affordable housing quota.

The current subregion was known as 21 Elements, meaning an alliance representing the 21 housing elements in force across San Mateo County, Russell said.

The alliance "was done at a time when there wasn't as much pressure to meet RHNA requirements as there is now," she said.

In the future, there is the prospect that the mandates of SB 50, the housing bill now on hiatus in the state Legislature, would apply to Portola Valley since the town is adjacent to Silicon Valley, a "jobs-rich opportunity area," Derwin wrote.

Being designated as "within an opportunity area" might result in automatic changes in zoning regulations to open areas of the town to more housing development, Russell said.

Woodside was left out of the opportunity area in the bill that will come back before the Legislature in January.

The decision "makes no sense," Derwin said, since they are next door to each other and are similar in population, average income and other characteristics.

Portola Valley Town Manager Jeremy Dennis is adopting more of a "wait and see" attitude.

"Generally, the Legislature is considering bills that would place greater responsibilities related to housing on cities," Dennis said. "Whether or not any one bill is signed into law by the governor, it is clear that the state is expecting cities and towns to do more on housing."

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