With three options on the table and a looming state-mandated deadline on Tuesday, Jan. 31, the Woodside Town Council agreed to include fewer units on town-owned sites in its housing strategy, but stopped short of adopting the plan.
During the five-hour meeting, Council member Brian Dombkowski suggested the town "kick the can down the road," but other council members, especially Mayor Chris Shaw, insisted the town submit the state-mandated, eight-year housing plan as soon as possible. The issue for many of the council members was that the multifamily sites are difficult to build on because of the town's lack of sewer systems, high fire risk and sloping terrain.
"If there's a town or a city with a target on its back, it's us," Council member Ned Fluet told fellow council members when Dombkowski suggested they go back to the drawing table to come up with viable housing sites.
Dombkowski pointed to its neighbor Portola Valley's decision last week to "punt" and continue working on its plan before submitting it in the coming months, after the Jan. 31 deadline.
The town plan includes 75 units of housing at Cañada College; 120 backyard accessory dwelling units (ADUs); 106 vacant single-family home sites; 17 units at 773 Cañada Road; 46 single non-vacant single-family home sites and 16 units at a town-owned High Road site; 17 units at another town-owned site on Raymundo Drive. High Road and Raymundo Drive were originally considered for higher densities, but the council compromised and added them both in at lower densities.
The town must plan for 328 units to be developed over the next eight years as part of the 2023-31 Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).
The council opted to include 15 backyard ADUs per year (its prior rate of production) instead of 20. During two meetings with Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) in early January, HCD warned town staff that removing all town-owned sites from the plan would be "problematic" for certification, as it would result in a lack of diversity of housing types, and an overreliance on ADUs, [according to a town staff report.
Staff guidance going into into the meeting
Staff tasked the council with answering three main questions during the Tuesday meeting: Does the town include town-owned sites for rezoning and disposition? Should the town rezone 773 Cañada Road at 20 units per acre? And should the town reduce the number of backyard accessory dwelling units it's included in the plan?
Staff identified three approaches the council could take:
• Include no town-owned sites and continue to pursue higher ADU production to meet RHNA
• Include High Road as the only town-owned site included
• Include Raymundo Drive as the only town-owned site included.
Council member Dick Brown recused himself from the discussion and giving direction to staff because he lives within 500 feet of one of the sites being considered (the town-owned High Road site).
Tricky town-owned sites under consideration
The debate Tuesday night centered on the difficulties with building on Raymundo Drive and High Road. The majority of the council opposed the High Road site, due to concerns that a PG&E transmission line runs through the site and that there is a collapsing slope.
The site would also need to be built at two- to three-stories tall to be able to fit all the 33 units town staff recommended for the site (at 20 units per acre), but council members like Jenn Wall said that wouldn't fit with the character of Woodside.
Shaw pushed back. He said High Road is closer to public transit, a freeway and services in Redwood City and Woodside.
Shaw noted that it is "totally unfair to concentrate all of development in one part of town — Raymundo is right across from 773 Cañada and near Cañada College," but that other sites considered by the town just didn't pan out. There were not property owners interested in developing their land in the town center corridor or at Haciendas Drive and Woodside Road.
"We've pitted two properties against each other and we are cramming down one square mile of town," he said.
Shaw asked town staff to quickly find out if a pipeline runs through the High Road site so the town can determine if the project needs to be removed from the plan.
The town originally considered rezoning a town-owned site at Raymundo Drive at 20 units per acre for a total of 33 units. There were several complications at the site, including that it would cost $2.6 million to run the sewer system along Interstate 280 to Raymundo site. It's also in a very high fire risk zone, council members noted.
Dombkowski argued before the council direction was given that the housing element "process ended in a way that doesn't make any sense" referring to the sites that were presented during the meeting.
Uncertainty about Cañada College site
At Cañada College, the San Mateo County Community College District is actively seeking funding for student and family housing at its campuses, according to the town staff report.
The district is applying for a state grant to support housing at the College of San Mateo campus first. If successful, the district would move to a second phase to obtain grant funding to support student and family housing at one of its other two campuses, including Cañada College. The second phase application submittal could take place as soon as July. The district indicated to the town that 75 to 80 units at Cañada College is a reasonable assumption.
It's unclear where the community college district is in the grant process.
The majority of the 35 residents who spoke during hours of public comment worried about the impacts multifamily housing in their neighborhoods would have on traffic and their quality of life, and talked about wanting to spread the housing development across town.
Barbara Hoskinson, who lives on High Road, said the narrow roads in her neighborhood aren't fit for building more housing.
"My fear is someone's going to literally die if we add more density," she said.
Brown spoke during the public comment section in opposition to developing the High Road site and suggested the town help develop housing for people with disabilities at the Raymundo site.
Residents brought up already existing sewer and roadway issues. Some said that it seems the town should be addressing these issues currently.
One resident said the town shouldn't support the state housing law in the same way it wouldn't support Jim Crow housing laws, referring to the state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation up until the 1960s.
In the minority were residents like resident Meghan Conn, who grew up in Woodside and told the council that if the town doesn't plan for change, then the state is going to do it for them. She noted that the Bay Area's population has increased significantly in recent years, but Woodside's has actually decreased.
"We are strongly out of step with the region," she said. "This might be the first time that we remember Woodside being asked to change in a significant way, but it's not really the first time that a community has had to deal with a larger influx of people. I think we can find a way to let a few more dozen people in on that."
Resident Rob Hollister encouraged the town to include all town-owned sites in the plan.
"Let's be clear: building these for very low- and low-income homes of this sort in Woodside will be for families making $80,000 to $150,000 a year," he said. "They're not drug dealers. They're not gang members. This isn't rental housing. They're teachers, they're retail workers, they're nurses. Let's let some buy homes in our town."
Council member Paul Goeld seemed to sum up the mood of the night best.
"I was under no illusions that everyone was going to leave this room happy," he said. "I thought everybody's gonna leave with some degree of unhappiness."