Housing Element is a go, but devil is in the details

It may have been an “incredible milestone for our city” when the Sixth Cycle Housing Element was deemed by the state to have achieved “substantial compliance” with state law, City Administrator Rosanna Bayon Moore said Monday. But, in fact, the detail work is far from over, and there’s yet another deadline approaching in this eight-year housing plan.

Piedmont has until Jan. 31 to submit Zoning Ordinance revisions to help enable the seven goals, 56 policies, and 77 programs contained in this exhaustive state-mandated plan outlining how the city will accommodate 587 new residences by 2031.

Part of Monday night’s City Council meeting was set aside for a study session on proposed General Plan amendments, Zoning Ordinance revisions, and environmental review to the Housing Element covering 2023 through 2031. The Housing Element is one of eight “elements,” or chapters, of the city’s General Plan; others address land use, environmental hazards, transportation, design and preservation, community services and facilities, natural resources and sustainability, and parks, recreation and open space.

The Housing Element, in Piedmont and virtually all other California cities, spells out how a city plans to accommodate the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) number – that 587 – on sites within city limits. The state Department of Housing and Community Development assigned a number of desired housing units to every city; Piedmont’s 587 – almost 10 times the 60 residences the city was mandated to prepare for in the fifth RHNA cycle that covered 2015 through 2022 – includes 163 (28 percent) extremely- or very-low-income units; 94 (16 percent) low-income; 92 (16 percent) moderate-income; and 238 (40 percent) “above moderate” income.

City Councilmember Jennifer Long said Monday that the programs in Piedmont’s Housing Element are designed to increase the number of housing starts in the city, and to help improve affordability. Or as Councilmember Tom Ramsey put it, “We’re trying to offer the carrots to encourage development.”

State law is constantly evolving, said Piedmont Senior Planner Pierce Macdonald, who has been one of the key architects of Piedmont’s Housing Element. Since a key function of the Housing Element is to keep the city in compliance with state housing law, it stands to reason the city’s document will have to be a “living document,” to keep evolving right along with state law. 

Monday’s study session included recaps of myriad aspects of the Housing Element, including proposed adjustments. One person, Irene Cheng, offered comments on how Piedmont can best make use of Senate Bill 9, which makes it easier to create duplex, triplex and fourplex housing units on parcels where single-family units have long been the norm.

There are two more public study sessions planned for discussion of the Housing Element-related zoning changes — at the Jan. 8 Planning Commission meeting, and at a special Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 29. 

Macdonald said public comments during this three-year-plus process have helped guide several aspects of the Housing Element, including traffic congestion and finding new revenue sources for the city.

“We’re hitting all the important issues in the community,” she said.

Honoring student athletes

The City Council on Monday formally recognized both the Piedmont High variety boys water polo team, and PHS cross country athlete Sebastien Swain.

The water polo team captured its first-ever North Coast Section championship in school history in November. Seventeen team members were on hand Monday night for the council’s official proclamation of PHS Varsity Boys Water Polo Day.

Senior Captain George Stein, one of 17 water polo players on hand Monday, said that his squad is, at first glance, a “pretty average team.”

“Yet at the end of the day, these guys proved that wrong, every one of them,” Stein said. It wasn’t a matter of above-average talent, he added, “but of above-average goals and above-average desire.”

Sebastien Swain competed in the CIF state cross country championships in Fresno on Nov. 25, 2023. (Photo: Don Gosney)

Swain, a freshman, was PHS’s only representative at the California Interscholastic Federation state cross country meet Nov. 25 in Fresno. 

“I just feel lucky I had the opportunity to go to state, and I can’t thank my team enough for supporting me,” Swain told the council Monday.

Contact Sam Richards at sam.richards4344@gmail.com

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