Letter to the Editor | Make affordable housing a win for Piedmont

The city should evaluate whether developing Blair Park can help it comply with state housing requirements, says Piedmont resident Rick Raushenbush.

The Bay Area has a shortage of housing affordable to many young, working and retired people.  To help address this problem, state law (Cal. Gov. Code § 65400 et seq) requires cities to plan to meet their share of the Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) of very low income, low income, moderate income, and above moderate income housing units.

Piedmont has very little affordable housing, basically a few apartment buildings and some accessory dwelling units (ADUs).  In the past, Piedmont’s RHNA share has been relatively small and Piedmont has met it by encouraging ADUs.  However, as set forth in an August 10, 2020 Staff Report, Piedmont’s RHNA share for the 2023 to 2031 time period is expected to increase substantially, primarily because housing has not kept pace with job creation in the Bay Area.  The RHNA allocation methodology does not consider Piedmont’s lack of available housing sites or its preference for single family homes.  Per the Staff Report: “The methodologies under consideration … could result in as many as 800 units in Piedmont, with approximately half of this total in the low and very low-income categories.”

We can make affordable housing a benefit for Piedmont. 

Piedmont teachers and staff, City employees, students, retirees wanting to downsize their homes, and others seeking good schools for their children all would benefit from more affordable housing.  

While space in Piedmont is limited, there is one obvious potential location to construct multi-family buildings. Blair Park, in Upper Moraga Canyon, is City-owned land.

It has limited use as a dog walking area for relatively few people.  It is a long (app. 300 meters) and relatively narrow (app. 65 meters) area.  A “yield study” is required, but it likely could be developed with 2 to 3 “pods” of 2-4 story apartment buildings, probably with parking below ground.  The City could issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for development, with the City’s price depending upon the number of affordable housing units and potential preferences for City and School District employees.  The RFP also could require some “community giveback,” such as a park in the area too narrow for housing.

Open space at Blair Park

Blair Park currently is zoned for “Public Facilities,” which does not authorize multi-family residential use. Per City Charter Section 9.02, Piedmont voters must approve a zoning change. The City’s General Plan, Land Use Element at 12 and Policy 4.3, designates Blair Park for open space and recreation. These would need to be changed to allow Blair Park development.

However, we need to identify some locations in Piedmont for affordable housing, both to meet state law and because Piedmont needs to be part of the solution to a severe regional housing shortage. Blair Park is an available and under-utilized space.

The City Council should evaluate whether Blair Park development can benefit Piedmont and help comply with state housing requirements.

6 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor | Make affordable housing a win for Piedmont

  1. This should be subject to a community vote, in the true vein of democracy. As is common these days, the most “socially just” in the community are the most likely to openly signal their virtue on forums such as these. There are many reasons why a reasonable, open minded, person with modern values living in Piedmont would oppose the addition of 600 housing units, the removal of community green space. They are terrified of speaking openly about reasonable objections for fear of public shaming. California – and even Piedmont – has become a place where many people are symbolically liberal yet operationally practical (conservative). Let those voices be heard as well.

  2. This is a great idea! I think we should definitively consider it, have an open discussion as a community and issue an RFP, to see what the site could yield. It is a gorgeous site and it would be great to develop it while preserving as many of the oak trees as possible, and integrating the open space into the housing. As for the proximity to transit and bicycle facilities, or lack thereof, if a project were to be approved at the site, these facilities could/should be improved, too. This is how cities grow. It takes work, ingenuity and perseverance, but it is possible.

    Having said that, I think we should also consider changing the lot size requirements and some of the zoning controls. We should be open to an “all of the above” strategy, at least at the beginning, as we start to consider ways to meet our RHNA.

    This is long overdue and as others have said, a matter of social and racial justice. It’s also about what type of community we want to be. In my mind, we should aim to be a community that embraces diversity and others, and is open to sharing its many resources and gifts.

    Thanks so much Rick for getting this conversation started.

    Happy holidays!

  3. The two Ricks have interesting ideas. Blair Park could be a viable location for housing. It’s terribly situated for access by bike and mass transit. In long term planning, one goal of density is to get people out of cars. The lot size reduction seems more viable and would produce greater numbers of units for RHNA. Problem is that many of these lots have large houses right in the middle so you’d have to tear down the house to get two buildable lots. Maybe a blanket incentive for any lot in Piedmont that can carve out 4000 sq ft to do so. As we saw with ADU, perhaps the state will make this a ministerial decision.

  4. I look forward to City Council providing a forum for public discourse around this idea. I support this idea and am excited for the potential shifts in how our city thinks about housing in Piedmont. I would remind all of us of the more recent lessons we have learned about our dark history as a redlined city and the role Piedmont played in housing segregation, and to come to terms with this history, acknowledge, apologize, remember and move forward. https://www.sidneydearing.com/piedmont-red-line

  5. Given Blair Parks separation from neighbors in Moraga Canyon, Rick R’s idea is a worthwhile idea that should receive further study from the City. Further:

    95% of Piedmont homes are in Zone A. The minimum lot size in zone A as per section 17.20.040 is 8,000 square feet which seems inconsistent in that of the approximately 4,000 homes in Piedmont, about 2,620 are on lots less than 8,000 square feet (“sf”) Further there are about 420 homes on lots 2,000 to 4,000 sf. Yes, there is a single family residence in Piedmont on lots of 2,000 sf, 2,250 sf and 2,800 sf. Reducing the minimum lot size to 4,000 sf will allow many more opportunities for moderate sized homes of up to 2,200 sf. (I do not advocate reducing the 20,000 sf minimum lot size in estate zone E.)

    Reducing minimum lot size will substantially help the City achieve the RHNA State mandates. The City’s recently enacted ADUs ordinances made ADUs “by-right” and with no neighbor notification or approval. This is the antithesis of the Piedmont tradition of protecting neighbor’s privacy rights. Smaller lots will mean a much greater potential for new single family homes and a return to Piedmont’s traditional ethic of neighbor input in new construction.

  6. This is a great idea which I support wholeheartedly! We are in the midst of a housing crisis, and resource-rich communities like Piedmont must do our part to help meet the need for affordable housing. This is also a racial equity issue. By opening our community to more diverse and affordable housing, we can start to redress the historical discrimination and segregation created through racially exclusive deed covenants, redlining, and single-family zoning. This is exactly the right time to be thinking openly and creatively about every available housing site, starting with Blair Park.

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