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OPINION: Keep the housing floodgates closed

Submitted by News Desk on Fri, 02/17/2012 - 12:08pm
Pleasanton's two decades of managed slow growth policies ended Monday with the City Council's final approval of a new "housing element" that will become part of the city's General Plan.

By rezoning nine separate sites totaling 73 acres throughout the city for high-density housing, the council has authorized developers to build more than 3,000 units for low- to very-low to moderate income tenants.

Add to 840 more housing units previously approved on land rezoned for two-, three- and four-story apartment buildings in the Hacienda Business Park, Pleasanton has now met a March 1 deadline imposed by the Alameda County Superior Court and the Urban Habitat affordable housing organization to require Pleasanton to meet its current state housing obligation to provide more workforce/affordable homes.

With only a few speakers at a special meeting Monday, the council's final 5-0 vote approving the housing element ordinance ended with more of a whimper than the loud protests heard two years ago after the court voided the city's 1996 ordinance that capped future residential growth at 29,000 units

That measure, approved overwhelmingly by voters, accompanied deliberate slow-growth efforts that limited new building permits to 350 a year with the state's highest development fees imposed on builders. The building spurts of the 1970s and 1980s came to an end as the late Mayor Ben Tarver and a no-growth City Council said enough's enough to both housing and population growth.

This year's council, headed by Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, largely undid those growth impediments Monday. Not because any council member or most voters want Pleasanton to become another high-density city like those along El Camino Real on the Peninsula or a thoroughfare of high-rise apartment houses and residential parking garages that we see today along Dublin Boulevard. But with their hands somewhat tied by an Urban Habitat coalition that likes what it sees in those other locations, council members are now moving cautiously toward a Growth Management policy that will still limit new permits and property densities.

This strategy, being formatted by City Manager Nelson Fialho at the urging of the council, should be ready for consideration early this summer in time for an up-or-down vote by the current council. Because of term limits, the council will lose three of its members in the upcoming municipal elections on Nov. 6.

For a City Council that has taken the heat for land rezonings to accommodate high density housing, albeit by state and court orders, a Growth Management Plan that keeps the residential building floodgates reasonably closed can come none too soon.