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Pleasanton Council OKs plan to allow another 2,200 high-density housing units here

Submitted by News Desk on Thu, 01/12/2012 - 10:34am

By Jeb Bing 

Facing a packed meeting room but with almost no objections, the Pleasanton City Council approved a final plan Wednesday night that will allow 73 acres in various parts of the city to be rezoned for high density housing.

The two- and three-story apartment complexes would provide "affordable" housing on 11 separate building sites scattered around the city.

The council will ratify its vote, as required by law, at a second reading of the new housing ordinance at a special meeting at 7 p.m. next Tuesday in its Civic Center council chambers. The public will then have 30 days to file any legal objections before the final document becomes part of the city's General Plan and is filed with both the Alameda Superior Court, which ordered the added housing in Pleasanton, and the state's Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) which concurred.

The actions by both the City Council Wednesday and the city's Planning Commission earlier followed the court's ruling that declared the city's 1996 housing cap of allowing no more than 29,000 homes and apartments here to be illegal.

When the additional affordable housing units are built, along with some 650-800 units already approved in the Hacienda Business Park, the total number of homes and apartments in Pleasanton will add up to about the 29,000-unit maximum that voters in 1996 wanted. Another wave of new housing requirements expected to be imposed by the state in 2014, however, will force Pleasanton to allow far more than 29,000 units.

Wednesday's action also marked a turning point in the city's long politically-motivated policy of slow growth that has been in place since the election of Mayor Ben Tarver in 1982. Mayor Tarver, who died Jan. 4, 2010, was Pleasanton's first "slow growth" mayor, actively supporting measures to slow down new home construction and an outspoken advocate of saving open space and the Pleasanton hills from business and residential development.

As mayor, he championed the 1996 housing cap ordinance that was approved by more than 80% of Pleasanton voters. He was succeeded in office by Tom Pico, and then by the city's current Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, both of whom also supported the housing cap at the time it was approved by voters.

Forced by a court order and state housing authorities to drop the cap and to now vote for a pro-growth rezoning measure, Hosterman and the other council members find themselves in charge as Pleasanton re-opens the housing growth tap. With a population based on the 2010 Census of just under 70,000, adding another 3,000 housing units, which the council has now approved and with most of the units likely to have at least two-bedrooms, could bring another 9,000 residents to Pleasanton based on an estimated three-people for each new rental unit.

Council members, recognizing the overall population increase their action will mean, expressed concern over its impact on schools.

At one time, the Pleasanton school district planned to build a 10th elementary school on a 13-acre site it owns on Vineyard Avenue to serve Ruby Hill and newer home developments in the vicinity. That plan was dropped for lack of funds. However, among the 9,000 new residents projected to fill the new affordable housing projects are expected to be a large percentage of younger couples with school-age children, and council members noted that more elementary schools may be needed.

"A lot of these new units will be occupied by younger families, so we need to understand the possibly dire needs our school district will face (by this rezoning action)," said Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio. "We need to work with the district to identify the sites where those needs will be,"

Councilwoman Cindy McGovern agreed, asking city staff to make sure guidelines are in place to provide space for news schools and to make sure room for playgrounds are part of the high density housing complexes to serve the children who will live there.

"The number one reason people move here is for our excellent schools, and we don't want to lose that," McGovern said.

City Manager Nelson Fialho said that while he and others on the city staff will work with the school district in analyzing the impact, the city and school district are separate governing agencies with no authority to co-mingle funds. He also pointed out that the court-ordered additional housing gave the city design review authority, but stipulated that few other requirements, such as special school construction fees, could be imposed.

Even though the council chambers were filled for Wednesday night's council meeting, only 10 spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting, and only one objected to the plan. That was Pat Costanzo, who represented the Kiewit-owned acreage northeast of the Valley Avenue-Stanley Boulevard intersection. Kiewit had asked to be included as a site for rezoning to allow high density housing, but was excluded pending the city's study of an East Site Specific Plan.

Other speakers said they would have liked to see changes in either the location of some of the sites or the numbers of housing units those sites could accommodate, but otherwise applauded the council's final considerations.

"Collectively, this is a very comprehensive piece of work," said Scott Raty, president of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce. "Let's now move forward by preparing and adopting a specific plan for the east side so that we'll never be in the position again where we're forced to make housing decisions by the state or its (Department of Housing and Community Development)."

It's been more than year, since October 2010, that Pleasanton officials have been addressing the city's share of the region's housing needs, which both the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the HCD have long said was inadequate.

In fact, critics addressed the city's lack of so-called workforce housing shortly after the 1996 housing cap was approved. The HCD insisted that the city rezone more land to accommodate the city's need for affordable housing nearly a decade ago, and eventually reversed its approval of the city's housing element plan because the city failed to meet those requirements. A local affordable housing group, Citizens for a Caring Community, has repeatedly asked the council to provide more housing for those who can't afford the cost of most homes and apartments here.

One of its members, former Councilwoman Becky Dennis, told the council Wednesday that the city should raise its requirement for affordable units from 15% to at least 20% for each new development so as to reduce the need for more housing requirements by the state.

In a letter to the HCD, Dennis and Pat Belding, the Caring Community organization's chairwoman, urged the state agency to raise the city's requirement for housing units for the very-low income group much higher.

Citing the city's zoning approval for an affordable housing complex in Hacienda Business Park, the organization's letter stated: "Zoning for an additional 305 (very low income) units should be added back for a total unmet need of 844 VLO residential units."

Still, Urban Habitat, an Oakland-based affordable housing coalition that successfully pursued a suit again Pleasanton over both its housing cap and unmet affordable housing needs, and the HCD appear to be satisfied with Wednesday's council actions. It's likely that after next Tuesday's ratification and the 30-day waiting period for legal objections, that city staff can proceed with the actual rezoning actions.

Although the city, itself, will not build any housing, the rezoning will enable developers to have an easier time in obtaining permits for multi-family, two- and three-story developments on the properties.

In the council's latest action, the sites will be rezoned to accommodate 1,884 apartment units at a ratio of 30 units per acre, with 400 more at 40 units per acre. Most apartment structures in Pleasanton are in the range of 20-25 units per acre.