Mountain View’s latest housing element draft gains approval of Environmental Planning Commission | News
The latest iteration of Mountain View’s residential element made it through consideration by the Environmental Planning Commission on Wednesday night, which unanimously supported the design after proposing some changes.
With EPC’s blessing, city officials can now submit the draft to the City Council for final approval on April 11, almost three months after the state’s Jan. 31 deadline — a goal most California cities have not met .
The sooner the city adopts its form of living, the sooner it can close the door on the so-called builder’s cure. City officials say they have already received three applications for building rehabilitation projects, totaling nearly 2,500 proposed housing units. The majority of these units come from a single project proposal to redevelop the Century Cinema in Mountain View into 2,200 residential units.
The housing element is a state-mandated process that requires cities to demonstrate every eight years how they will meet the housing goals set by Sacramento. Mountain View’s housing goal, also known as Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), is more than 11,000 net new units.
Each city must compile a site inventory — a list of potential lots on which housing could be built over the next eight years — to demonstrate to the state that it will meet or exceed its RHNA.
In the draft approved by the EPC on March 15, city officials identified more than 16,500 units that they believe will be built over the next eight years, giving the city a healthy buffer against the 11,135 units required by the state.
In addition to taking stock of locations, the housing element must also identify constraints a city faces that make housing construction difficult. For each limitation identified, cities must develop a corresponding mitigation program. The latest draft made changes to a number of these programmes, some of which commissioners proposed further changes on Wednesday night.
A new idea suggested by city officials was to add a specific target for how many housing units the city wants to buy and keep affordable over the next eight years – a concept that made up a significant portion of Wednesday night’s EPC discussion took.
City officials suggested a target of 50 units, which EPC eventually endorsed. However, Commissioners Jose Gutierrez and Alex Nunez wanted the program to more explicitly identify community ownership as another option to preserve at least 50 units.
Under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) and Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA), cities can implement community ownership policies that give tenants advance notice if a landlord intends to sell their building. Tenants are also given a “right of first bid”, ie they have the opportunity to submit an offer before the building is put on the market.
“Real estate acquired through TOPA/COPA may be subject to permanent affordability constraints, increasing the jurisdiction’s affordable housing stock and permanently removing real estate from the speculative market,” explains a toolkit from the advocacy working group Bay Area Housing Element.
The two commissioners also wanted to prioritize the development of an action plan for a community ownership model. The change was unanimously supported by the EPC.
Other program changes in the latest draft included removing parking requirements for developers with affordable housing or for projects in transit-oriented areas; reducing parkland fees to ensure they do not impede development in the city; and setting a target date for evaluating the effectiveness of the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance by the end of 2024.
Taking these adjustments into account, the EPC unanimously supported the design of the housing element. City officials said the next step is another informal round of reviews with the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) before the final draft goes to council for approval on April 11. City employees have been in regular contact with the HCD over the past few months, which has provided feedback on the city’s draft in several rounds. HCD makes the final determination as to whether a residential element complies with state law.
Forward planning manager Eric Anderson said if the adoption doesn’t go through on April 11, the city could consider some serious consequences depending on how long the process drags on. Cities that don’t comply with the state’s housing code aren’t allowed to apply for certain funding programs, and Anderson said there’s at least $1 million in state funds on the table that the city could lose if it doesn’t adopt its housing element by April.
“And if we still don’t have a compliant housing element,” Anderson added, “the city cannot reject certain non-compliant projects.” This is known as building work projects, which we have received quite a few already.”
The builder’s subsidy is a provision of state law that allows developers to circumvent a city’s local zoning statutes if the city fails to comply with the state’s housing element law.
“That means anyone can come in at any density they want and in virtually any location they want,” Anderson said.
The only catch is that building renovation projects must make at least 20% of their proposed units affordable.
According to the city, the building renovation projects received so far by the builders include:
• 2,200 residential units at 1500 N. Shoreline Blvd. proposed where the Century Cinema 16 movie theater is currently located. The project also includes a 100,000 square foot fitness center, a hotel and 13,300 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor
• Proposed 200 condominiums at 1920 Gamel Way.
• 85 condominium units proposed at 294-296 Tyrella Ave.
All three projects propose to make exactly 20% of their units affordable.
Anderson said the city isn’t aware of any additional projects that are “just waiting in the wings,” so he doesn’t expect it to be completed by March 11.
But if the housing element isn’t accepted by April 11, Anderson added, “it’s possible that an extended delay could give people who might not otherwise have planned it time to prepare an application,” under the homebuilder’s remedial action.