We are writing as community advocates of racial equity and inclusion to enthusiastically support the recent steps taken by the City of Piedmont to move forward with a plan to build affordable housing in Moraga Canyon.
Today the single largest barrier to Piedmont becoming a more racially and socioeconomically diverse community is the lack of housing opportunities affordable to households across the income spectrum, including both rental and ownership opportunities. Accordingly, perhaps the single biggest action our community can take to become more inclusive is to build affordable housing.
Through its state-mandated Housing Element process, the City, after multiple drafts and significant input from various community groups and members, identified Moraga Canyon as a promising area for new housing development. The City Council recently voted to take the next step toward achieving this goal: hiring a planning consultant to study the site.
A few members of the community have suggested that it is racist or discriminatory to put housing in Moraga Canyon. We disagree. All of Piedmont is a “high-resource” area, and building affordable housing anywhere within our borders will enable new residents to benefit from our excellent schools and city services. The housing the City is proposing for Moraga Canyon will be a mix of 72 units of market rate housing and 60 units affordable to low-income households–it is not exclusively affordable. Moraga Canyon already contains residences along both the north and south sides of Moraga Avenue, and sports fields that are used and visited by many in the community. Through careful planning and community input, we can create a welcoming environment for our new neighbors that is well integrated with the rest of the city.
The City has initiated a planning process that will entail studying multiple potential schemes, a thorough review of the safety and environmental impacts, and ample opportunities for community input. Any residential or active recreational uses planned for the south side of Moraga Avenue will require safe pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular access. We plan to participate in that planning process, and encourage other community members to do so.
The exclusion of multiple-family and affordable housing from our borders for over one hundred years has been racist. Building affordable housing is the best way to redress that history.
Moraga Canyon may end up being the first place we create affordable housing in Piedmont, but it should not be the last: We hope the City will also explore ways to add affordable housing options on Grand Avenue, in the city center, and throughout the city.
The Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign has four primary focus areas: reforming policing, diversifying our city and its leadership, promoting policies that lead to diverse, affordable housing, and promoting anti-racism in the schools. For more information about our work, please visit our website, www.piedmontracialequity.org.
Ms. Leland, thank you, again, for addressing my concerns. For the record, however, the EIR documenting the unmitigable and significant hazards of vehicular and pedestrian access to Blair Park was prepared not only for proposed soccer fields in Blair, but also for expanded use of Coaches Field. The wide scope of the study documented that uses on the Coaches Field side of the Canyon would be safer.
Regarding your argument that the City has not proposed housing low income families in Blair, please be aware of the following. City staff, paid consultants to the City, and a Council-appointed citizens committee all recommended that any housing proposed for the Canyon be located on the Coaches Field side. The Council rejected that recommendation and added Blair Park as a site for housing. The justification for doing so was that the City needed to identify a site in order to qualify for county support of low-income housing.
As for more technical studies, we do not them to establish whether Blair is a former landfill physically isolated from the remainder of the community by impassable terrain and a high-speed arterial that cannot be made safe for drivers or for children on foot or on bicycles accessing the Park. These facts have been established by history, prior studies, and our eyes. Whether to isolate minority families in Blair Park is a decision to be informed not by engineers, urban planners, or bureaucrats in Sacramento, but by the decency and common sense of Piedmonters.
To Deb Leland’s suggestion that the “smaller footprint” of housing in Blair might have lesser EIR impacts, I’m not so sure. Two safety issues with the sports field proposal were pedestrian crossings and vehicles existing the parking lots. I think both could be greater with housing at Blair Park. And there will be more stopped traffic in the canyon, especially during commute times, than the field proposal. Putting all housing at Coackes would mitigate all of those impacts to some degree.
Piedmont is a high resource area ( https://www.hcd.ca.gov/sites/default/files/docs/planning-and-community/TCAC-HCD-Opportunity-Map.pdf ) by default- the city has 1 high school, 1 middle school, 1 police department, 1 main park and 1 convenience/hardware store. All residents have equal access to these excellent city resources. There is no disparity like there is between say Rockridge and West Oakland. But practically, the housing plan calls for all affordable housing be put in the city’s borders while it passes on developing civic center sites. This is not racist but looks segregated. Consolidating all housing on the north side of Moraga Canyon would make for more equitable and integrated development. To develop more options for affordable housing in Piedmont, expand the multi-family/multi-use zones in Piedmont (they do exist now). This option was surprisingly not considered during development of the Housing Element. If anything, the Housing Element calls for elimination of the citizen vote under the Charter that would facilitate new affordable housing options.
Beautifully expressed! Moraga Canyon is a start in the right direction, not racist. I do hope Piedmont continues to identify more possible ways to encourage affordable housing elsewhere in the city.
I am delighted that Cheng and Leland, as representatives of PREC, have responded to my letter regarding where in Moraga Canyon low income housing should be located. They have, however, completely missed the point. I agree that 60 units of low income housing should be built in the Canyon as part of the city’s plan for a whole new neighborhood of 132 units. It would, however, be a racist choice to physically and socially isolate them in Blair Park where previous EIR’s have documented residents would suffer significant and unmitigable health and safety hazards. These 60 families should be integrated into the community planned for the safer side of Moraga Canyon. The city corporation yard, which must be rebuilt under any scheme, should be moved to Blair Park.
I do understand your point. However, the City has not yet proposed any specific location for the housing units, whether on Blair Park or any other part of the site. We should allow the planners to carry out their work and determine how to feasibly site housing so that it is physically and socially integrated with the rest of the community. The negative impacts identified in the EIR prepared for the Blair Park soccer field proposal years ago could potentially be mitigated through creative design and siting options that the smaller footprint of housing units may allow.
Multiple drafts of the Housing Element did propose housing all on the north side of Moraga Avenue so presumably planners looked at this. A safe crossing of Moraga Avenue may be achievable but will cause congestion on this busy street. As I understand it, the EIR does nor consider traffic congestion.