Letter to the Editor | Do the City’s proposed zoning changes require a vote?

Depending on the source, zoning changes in Piedmont do or do not require a vote of the electorate.

For background:

From the Piedmont City Charter:
“The Council may classify and reclassify the zones established, but no existing zones shall be reduced or enlarged with respect to size or area, and no zones shall be reclassified without submitting the question to a vote at a general or special election (Charter).”

From the Piedmont City Attorney:
“According to the City Charter, a vote of the electorate is required if the City were to propose extending or reducing the boundaries of any specific zone or changing any property from one zone to another. The Charter does not require a vote if the City changes uses or densities within a zone (FAQ).”

Note that the charter implies that there are two zoning actions that require a vote – resizing and reclassifying a zone – but the City Attorney says only resizing requires a vote.  Most Piedmonters live in Zone A, single-family residential, but by the City Attorney’s interpretation of the charter, that zone could be reclassified by City Council to say multi-family or mixed use with no vote.  Increased zone density is not a question for voters, just the size of the zone.

City Council is scheduled to approve the Housing Element (HE) at this Tuesday’s City Council meeting and there are no significant changes proposed to Zone A. But the HE clearly adopts the “no vote required” position for zone density. The first draft of the HE called for a committee to study the impediments to affordable housing caused by the charter (for example, a vote of the residents) but the final HE replaced that text with a program to “educate residents about their misperceptions of the charter”.   

And for some reason the Environmental Impact Report for the HE studied the impact of increasing density in Zone A to 20 units per acre and found no significant impact. So a 5,000 sq foot lot could accommodate 2 units and a 10,000 sq foot lot 4 units. The potential traffic impact of this density increase can’t be studied in an EIR nor can the impact on privacy. No such changes to Zone A are currently called for in the HE but with the finding of no significant impact in the EIR and the opinion of the City Attorney, City Council could increase the density in Zone A without a vote of Piedmont residents.  

Residents can reach out to the Planning Department  at piedmontishome@piedmont.ca.gov or City Council at citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov. The link for Tuesday’s meeting is:  https://piedmont.ca.gov/government/city_council

3 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor | Do the City’s proposed zoning changes require a vote?

  1. There has been a trend for the city and its hired attorney to want to cancel the public vote requirement contained in the charter. There have been other text changes that significantly alter the permitted uses within a zone, which effectively is a rezoning, yet the city has not held a public vote.
    There seems to be more concern with what the State HCD thinks about city housing policy than what the voters might feel.

    • Regardless of what the City Attorney says, Council could put these matters to a vote but chooses not to. Who is going to object? The HE has two parts – meeting the HCD Housing mandates (567 units) which it does without increasing Zone A density. The HE calls for an additional 500 units to comply with a state policy, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, which is not a mandate but a set of goals. The HE does call for adoption of a local density ordinance within 3 years but says this density ordinance won’t apply to the estate zone.

  2. While land use is a complex subject, zoning at its most fundamental level is two elements: The boundary of the zone to separate from other zones and the classification of use(s) that are allowed in each zone. Otherwise residential housing is intermixed with gas stations, foundaries, tanneries and machine shops. The residential nature of Piedmont is critical to the basic character of Piedmont. Removing resident right to vote on use and change of use within a zone is ill advised and contrary to what the Charter states.

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