After nearly three years of City Council hearings, other public meetings and open houses, online surveys and consultants’ reports, the council on Monday night unanimously approved the city’s Sixth Cycle Housing Element, a comprehensive document outlining how the city will plan for accommodating 587 new residences by 2031.
Monday’s approval of this 2023-2031 Housing Element helps the city comply with the Association of Bay Area Governments’ Regional Housing Needs Allocation, which calls for Piedmont to prepare for 587 new residences by 2031. Every local government is required to identify adequate sites for housing to meet the existing and projected regional housing needs at every income level.
Of those 587 housing units, 163 (28 percent) should be extremely- or very-low-income units; 94 of them (16 percent) should be low-income; 92 (16 percent) should be moderate-income; and 238 (40 percent) should be “above moderate” income.
The version of the Housing Element approved Monday night was a “tracked change” version incorporating changes based on responses from the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). The state agency finished a 90-day review of the city’s plan in February. Final state certification is expected in May 2023.
There were 29 comments offered by HCD, seeking revisions or adjustments to Piedmont’s draft Housing Element, or asking questions of the city. Kathryn Slama of Lisa Wise Consulting, working with the city on the Housing Element, said the state’s comment letter to Piedmont was “fairly standard,” and that the issues with which Piedmont has wrestled in the course of creating this Sixth Cycle document were generally similar to those other cities have encountered.
Although the draft Housing Element was deemed to be in “substantial compliance,” HCD sought (and received) from Piedmont a number of small but notable adjustments, which were added to the document. These include providing additional information and narrative about the cost of housing for lower-income households, the availability and cost of housing for rent or sale, and the housing challenges for special needs populations; the need for programs to mitigate specific housing constraints, requirements for on- and off-site improvements, barriers to housing for persons with disabilities; additional or enhanced enhanced programs pertaining to several things, including a shortfall of lower-income sites, the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan in general, permanent supportive housing, assistance provided to nonprofit housing developers, developmentally disabled people, extremely-low-income households, housing support for families in crisis, assistance to faith-based community organizations, and additional discussion of public comments the city received and how they were incorporated into the Housing Element.
Several council members and other city officials have noted that the state housing requirements that fall under the Housing Element are, in essence, unfunded mandates, forcing Piedmont and all cities to pay to comply. City Administrator Sara Lillevand said that, in Piedmont’s case, that expense to implement Housing Element programs could be $1 million over the next three years.
Kevin Jackson, Piedmont’s director of planning and building, said the needed work likely won’t call for hiring more city staff, but that it’s likely consultants would need to be retained to do much of the “upfront work” during the early stages of the eight-year plan.
Two commenters Monday night expressed concern that two areas – Moraga Canyon and Grand Avenue – are being counted on too much to handle new housing. One of those commenters, Carol Galante, asked the city reconsider revisiting the Civic Center (City Hall) area as a potential site for housing.
That didn’t happen Monday. But Lillevand told the council that even though housing in the Civic Center area isn’t part of the Housing Element, housing plans there could be part of a future master plan for the city.
The Housing Element, as approved, calls for placing about 132 of those new residences, at all income levels, within the Moraga Canyon General Plan area. The area is home to Coaches Field and Blair Park, which would remain under the Housing Element.
Beyond the reality that Piedmont’s 1.7 square miles is already almost completely built out, a challenge has been, and will be, to bring more equity to the city’s future housing stock and sales, to make the city more welcoming to a wider segment of the population.
Councilwoman Jennifer Long asked whether there are any metrics to determine whether the city is doing enough to comply with the state’s fair housing requirements, and making the city more inviting and accommodating to various racial and socioeconomic groups. Slama replied that it will be more a matter of the city being able to demonstrate efforts made to increase affordability and diversity in the kinds of housing available.
“The target is just to continue fair housing practices,” Slama said.
Long said the Housing Element work helped the city initiate some important conversations about diversity and inclusion, which in some cities have been more elusive. “I’m excited and grateful for the way we’ve all shown up,” she said.
Council members and other city staff noted that more than 1,000 Piedmont residents weighed in on this comprehensive plan over those nearly three years. Councilwoman Betsy Smegal Andersen called the city-staff-led work on it a “Herculean effort.”
Contact Sam Richards at email@example.com