Approval of the Housing Element – Issue #4

I have skipped over issue #3 because I addressed it in part of my response to issue #2. Impacts from the Saris Regis proposal are a trade off and a policy issue. I urge you to read my comments and voice your opinion.

Issue #4 is:

In January 2015, on a split 3-2vote, the City Council approved an update of the Housing Element of the General Plan.

Question: 4-a: If you had been on the Council at that time would you have approved the Housing Element Update?

Question: 4-b: If you had been on the Council at that time would you have approved the Statement of Negative Environmental Impact?

Question 4-c: If elected, would you move to amend the approved Housing Element: If so how and why?

The Basics: Land use is a very complicated issue in California and asking people about a Housing Element really requires explanation as to what a Housing Element is and what impact can it have on our City. So let’s start with Housing Element 101.

A Housing Element is part of a city’s General Plan. State Law requires cities to have General Plans or potentially be unable to obtain state funds and/or perhaps be sued by interested parties. The General Plan and its elements are required to be periodically updated. If updating deadlines are met then the General Plan sections are required to be updated less frequently, if not, then more frequent updates are required. Many of the parts of a General Plan are expensive to update as they require Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) that are costly to prepare and they require a lot of city staff time. The Housing Element is one of those expensive sections of the General Plan.

State law requires that cities show that they are able to sustain a certain level of growth in housing based on projected increases in population over the coming years. The Housing Element is the part of the General Plan where a city will demonstrate that it can comply with state law and support such housing growth. Planning for housing growth is a State mandate, cities are not given other options.

The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) is the methodology by which the State tells cities precisely what additional housing they need to plan for. In the Bay Area we administer this locally through the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) which goes through a process to allocate additional housing to the local governments. Foster City ultimately gets its allocation and State Law requires that we show in our Housing Element how we will plan to meet that allocation over the coming years. Now the process is much more complex than this, but this is Housing Element 101 with enough information to at least understand what is going on.

Now the bizarre part in all of this is that the law does not require that we build this housing, only that we plan for it. Thus technically, approving a Housing Element does not directly result in new housing being built. This is important to understand because although I voted with the minority against the Housing Element, I believe that the majority voted in favor of it because it does not directly result in additional housing and because if we get the Housing Element approved by the deadline then we will have a lot more time and save money by not having to update it more frequently. (I do not like to speak for others but that is my understanding. Those who voted in the majority can speak for themselves in comments if they choose).

The controvertial part of the approved Housing Element was to increase the allowable density (number of residential units per acre) of four existing developments in our City. In other words, if any of these property owners want to build more housing units within their existing development we will allow that additional density. Now no one has come forward so far, but the problem that Herb Perez and I had, as the minority, was that it gives us one less reason in the future to stop that housing development if and when it comes before us in the future. What I mean is that if one of these developments wants to build the additional housing, we would not be able to stop them simply because of the additional density. We may have other reasons, but then again we may not. In essence it takes one bow out of our quiver. Whether there are other bows remaining we will only be able to tell at some later point.

What Herb and I argued was that we should come up with a realistic plan first, even if it means that we will have to update our Housing Element one additional time, because taking the time to plan will put us past the deadline for getting our Housing Element update approved. As the question states, that argument was rejected and the Housing Element passed 3 – 2.

Hopefully this gives people enough of an education on the Housing Element and on what happened in Foster City for me to address the issues raised by the questions and to suggest questions that I think you really want to ask of the candidates.

4-a and 4-b are irrelevant. Asking people how they would have voted on matters that are done is pointless. It changes nothing.

4-c would be difficult since the facts have not changed, all that has changed are the people making the policy decisions. Moreover, unless an amended Housing Plan dealt with Foster City’s RHNA allocations, it would be rejected.

So what I suggest you ask of our candidates is:

  1. What is a Housing Element and how can it effect us? Make sure they understand the issue and the impacts.
  2. What are our RHNA allocations and how would you meet them?
  3. Housing costs are skyrocketing making it more and more difficult for middle class wage earners to find places to live in Foster City – do you think that is a problem (why/why not) and if so how would you deal with it.
  4. New jobs in our County significantly outweigh new housing – do you think that is a problem (why/why not) and if so how would you deal with it.
  5. Do you think it is a good idea to link new commercial projects to local housing? Why/why not and if so what would you do to make that happen.

These questions will, I believe, let you know how the candidates stand on real policy issues, how they would plan to implement the policy they support and how well they truly understand the issues.



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