City Finally Approves Affordable Housing Blueprint

Submitted by News Desk on Fri, 07/29/2011 - 11:28am

After a year of meetings, meetings and more meetings, city officials have finally come up with an affordable housing blueprint that, fingers crossed, will satisfy state rules about providing homes for low-income families.

The City Council unanimously approved a plan Tuesday night that will yield 2,000 affordable units throughout Pleasanton, hopefully putting an end to a legal battle and scoldings from the state.

The city must rezone 69 acres throughout town for these affordable units — a mix of 23 units per acre for moderate-income housing and 30 units per acre for low-income housing.

Then, the economy will determine whether specific projects get built.

Plans approved on Tuesday earmark about 105 acres — more than required — but that's because the California Department of Housing and Community Development has to approve the plan.

Councilman Jerry Thorne said its best to give many options, hoping they comply with the law. Then after the state gives the OK, local officials can go about whittling those options down, he said. The final plans should be in place by January, and residents will have opportunities to weigh in before that.

"Quite frankly, we no longer control land use in our community," Thorne said.

"The state has been telling us the number of units we have to build and pretty soon they'll be telling us where to do it. Not one of these people in these agencies is elected and yet they can do this in Pleasanton. The only thing we can do is let our legislature know we want to control these things."

There are 21 sites throughout town earmarked for affordable housing, including high-density development near the BART station and 75 acres of residential development at Stoneridge Shopping Center. The latter alone could yield 400-plus units, with housing popping up on the mall parking lot if a parking structure were built.

Also included in the plan are two sites along Stanley Boulevard totaling almost 17 acres, a 39-acre site near Interstate 680 south of Bernal Avenue where a Safeway was approved, along with the expansive parking area of the Carr America facility near Wal-Mart and Rosewood Drive.

Residents have hawkishly watched this process, concerned about all the problems dense housing brings — increased traffic, parking snarls, more noise and a crowding-effect at local schools.

Mike Donahue collected 189 signatures from neighbors who live around the Stanley Boulevard sites.

"We're pro-development but there are issues," he said.

"We already have horrible traffic flow in our neighborhood — there are seven different developments that feed into Stanley. It's a big, big concern."

He said the street is packed with parked cars 24 hours a day and with 48 affordable units planned for 4202 Stanley alone, there won't be room for extra parking, he said.

City officials said they sympathized with residents and want to make sure the entire city bears the brunt of the housing burden, not just one neighborhood.

"We don't want all the density in East Pleasanton," said Vice Mayor Cheryl Cook-Kallio. "This should be balanced through the city and we won't rezone more than we have to."

She said negotiations were painstaking, with residents and city officials spending hour upon hour to come up with the current plan.

"It really is Pleasanton at its best," she said, noting that Pleasanton Unified School District is also involved, because of future impacts on schools.

Councilman Matt Sullivan said sites were not picked out of the air.

"We were forced into this by the courts," he said, referring to a lawsuit filed by Urban Habitat, an Oakland-based social justice advocacy organization that successfully challenged Pleasanton's growth cap.

"We're trying to pick sites that are close to transportation, that are close to services ... and that are compatible with the existing neighborhoods."

Councilwoman Cindy McGovern said that among other things, she had concerns about the 3.2-acre downtown site, west of the Bernal Court/Old Bernal Road intersection. The city has talked about buying that property in order to add onto the Civic Center and Pleasanton Library; that won't happen if it's rezoned for 74-plus affordable units.

"We need to figure out how best to use that," she said.

The federal government considers housing to be affordable if a family spends no more than 30 percent of its income on its housing costs, including utilities, according to a staff report.

Someone earning $60,000 per year can afford $1,500 per month in housing costs; someone making $75,000 per year can afford up to $1,875 per month, according to the report.

The median household income in Pleasanton is $90,300 as of the 2010 Census. In 2000, it was $68,902. A family of four earning between $64,400 and $108,350 per year is considered moderate income. The idea is that each city throughout California should provide affordable housing so residents can work where they live and vice versa.

The city has until August 16 to submit the housing plan, and completed the task almost a month ahead of schedule.

Pleasanton Planning Manager Janice Stern told Patch two months ago that the transit-oriented housing near the Pleasanton/Dublin BART station could be similar to the apartments and multi-family housing on the Dublin side of the tracks, but it wouldn’t be as densely developed as Dublin.

To give people an idea of what this could look like, she said the moderate-income and affordable units in the Archstone Apartments across the street from Wal-Mart on Owens Drive are examples of what could be built in the future.

Nearly 1,000 below-market apartment units have been built in Pleasanton since the mid-1980s, and there are about 400 specifically for low-income and very low-income seniors.

tanya.rose@patch.com