State housing mandates are forcing Mountain View to grow quickly, with new zoning requirements that would increase its housing stock by 32% over the next eight years. Now city planners have to figure out where to put it all.
The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), charged with predicting the region's future housing needs, tasked Mountain View earlier this year with zoning for 11,135 new housing units between 2023 and 2031. It's a huge spike over the 2,926 units required over the last eight-year cycle, and is much higher than what neighboring cities have been asked to accommodate.
To prove to state housing officials that Mountain View can accommodate that magnitude of growth, the city must update its so-called housing element, a document spelling out how the city plans to rezone areas to allow for new housing and streamline processes to make it easier to build. That process is beginning in earnest in the coming months, with pop-up booths and community meetings starting this week.
Housing requirements are determined in eight-year cycles through what's called the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process, and Mountain View has pretty good track record for building its fair share. Over the 2015-2023 cycle, Mountain View has already issued building permits for 4,219 homes and has 3,859 more units in the pipeline, putting the city on pace to trounce its housing requirements before the cycle is over.
The only caveat is that the vast majority of those units are market-rate housing, in line with a regional failure to meet the Bay Area's affordable housing needs.
What's new this year is the scale of housing which cities are expected to accommodate. Santa Clara County's last RHNA allocation was 58,836 units, but this time it's more than doubled to 129,577 units -- a tall order that's unevenly distributed among its cities.
Despite being a smaller suburban city, Mountain View is expected to build nearly the same amount of housing as Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, while other North County cities are being asked to build much less. Palo Alto's housing allocation is much lower at 6,086 units, while Los Altos is being asked to build 1,958 units.
It may not take much to revise Mountain View's housing plans to meet the new state requirements. The city is already on a fast-growth trajectory over the next five years, with plans to build 7,000 homes in North Bayshore and up to 5,000 homes in East Whisman. Many of the city's pending housing plans can plug into the housing element update and satisfy state mandates, said Wayne Chen, the city's assistant community development director.
One of the overarching goals of the RHNA process is to put jobs near housing, which is exactly what Mountain View is doing.
"We're doing a lot of work in our precise plans to add housing in our employment-rich areas, and we want to participate and contribute to the regional housing efforts," Chen said.
Also playing into the housing element update are the city's plans to completely revamp R3 zoning, which governs most of Mountain View's multifamily housing.
The City Council is looking to revise the R3 rules to spur increased density and more diverse housing types through a new set of building standards that would affect 480 acres of the city and could allow for the construction of 9,000 new homes.
Cities have until January 2023 to update their housing elements, and Mountain View planning officials have already started working on components of the plan, Chen said. The next step is to solicit public feedback and ensure residents feel comfortable about where and how the city can accommodate thousands of new homes. The city is hosting pop-up booths at the Mountain View Farmers Market on Aug. 19 and Sept. 2, and will hold a community workshop on Sept. 23.
"This a great opportunity for residents and community members, including the business community, to provide input for things that the city should be looking at for its housing needs," Chen said.
Many cities have protested against their housing allocation this year, insisting that the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) is mandating too much housing growth. A total of 28 cities filed appeals seeking to adjust their allocation, including Palo Alto, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. Mountain View did not file an appeal, but did send a letter with concerns about the high amount of growth being asked of the city.
The letter notes that Mountain View is being asked to build the most housing, as a percentage of existing households, in the region among cities with more than 5,000 residents, and that it's unclear how ABAG arrived at some of its numbers. Modeling used by ABAG sets housing forecasts that make sense at a regional level but can seem arbitrary at the local level, with assumptions that simply don't make sense.
"An area near downtown Sunnyvale was projected to add only 195 units to the year 2050, despite having approximately 30 acres of underutilized office near their baby-bullet Caltrain station, while an area near downtown Mountain View was projected to add almost 3,000 units, with (a) similar amount or even less area of underutilized land," according to the letter.
During the last RHNA cycle, Mountain View unsuccessfully appealed its housing allocation because housing in North Bayshore was built into the assumptions. At that time, the City Council had sought to remove housing as an allowed use in the area, and wanted ABAG to consider that a "significant and unforeseen change in circumstances." ABAG disagreed, and the appeal was unanimously denied.
A new key component in Mountain View's housing element is a renewed focus on fair housing, Chen said. While the city has followed state and federal fair housing requirements against discrimination, there's an effort underway to expand the scope to include so-called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. The new approach takes into account things like displacement, regional equity and a focus on improving neighborhoods where there are racially concentrated areas of poverty.
More information on the city's housing element update can be found online.