Mountain View city staff plan to submit their second draft of the Housing Element – a once-every-eight-years process where cities prove they’ll be able to meet state-mandated housing goals – by the end of this week.
At a Nov. 16 meeting, the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) heard updates on what’s new in the second draft and how staff expects the rest of the Housing Element process to go.
Senior Planner Ellen Yau said the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), which is leading the Housing Element approval process, has recommended that cities submit revised drafts before adopting and submitting their final Housing Elements. This gives jurisdictions a chance to have a back-and-forth with HCD on what needs to change, rather than having to change an already-adopted, non-compliant Housing Element.
The other parts of the Housing Element project, such as rezonings the city is undertaking in order to meet its Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) – the number of new housing units that cities need to build over the next eight years, set by the state – and the Housing Element’s Environmental Impact Report will be presented at a separate public meeting, Yau said.
“After the last round of study sessions with EPC and council, which was in May and June, we revised the draft and submitted it to HCD for their 90-day review,” Yau said. “So they sent us comments Sept. 29, and since then we have met with the HCD reviewers several times to go over the comments that we received.”
In that Sept. 29 letter from HCD, the department identified some problem areas the city needs to address. Most of the comments HCD made in the letter and subsequent meetings with staff were around adding specificity, data analysis, timelines and action items to the Housing Element, Yau said.
“They wanted more information on how our needs and constraints tied to housing programs, and how the programs are addressing public comments and overall housing needs,” she said. “And then they wanted additional information for each of those programs regarding timeline and metrics.”
Here are some of the key changes staff made to the draft in response to HCD’s comments, and what happens next.
The state requested that the city add information and clarification about the redevelopment of already developed sites that still have the potential to become housing in the next eight years. The new draft includes a few specific changes to the sites inventory, the list of potential sites where cities think housing will get built in the next eight years, as is required by the Housing Element update process.
Some of those newly added sites include 1250 Grant Road, a supermarket site that’s currently occupied by Nob Hill Foods, and 1500 North Shoreline Boulevard where Century Cinema is located.
“We also updated the sites inventory based off of newly submitted applications,” Yau said. “Based off of HCD guidance, we also included some projects that are under construction, but didn’t receive their final certificate of occupancy at the start of the planning period, which was June 30 of this year.”
But staff took a more conservative approach in other changes to the draft, such as reducing the estimated residential capacity for sites that are currently shopping centers, “to account for their lower likelihood of redevelopment, especially given state guidance that multi-tenant centers may be a constraint on redevelopment,” the draft Housing Element states.
While Mountain View is required to build 11,135 units in the next eight years, the latest draft puts the city’s capacity at 17,779 – an increase from the first draft by about 2,000 units. However, staff attributed that increase largely to “the addition of the already approved projects” to the sites inventory, Yau said.
Affirmatively furthering fair housing
HCD also asked Mountain View for more analysis and data on the location of lower-income units that the city intends to build. As part of the Housing Element process, jurisdictions are required to show that future developments affirmatively further fair housing by increasing affordable units and ensuring that housing ends up in well-resourced areas – parts of the city that are close to shopping centers, good schools, transit, parks and other public amenities.
Yau said staff looked at four major areas to see if proposed affordable housing was equitably distributed: income, opportunity, education, and race and ethnicity.
“The data analysis shows that the city’s Housing Element is not concentrating new, lower income housing in lower resourced or segregated neighborhoods,” Yau said.
Rather, she continued, the sites that are included in the sites inventory are located in areas with generally higher income households, in the highest resource areas and in areas with high educational scores.
Yau mentioned that the analysis did exclude the North Bayshore census tract because it’s something of an outlier: while it’s identified as a low resource area, the city’s plans for the area will “overall improve access to opportunity for residents out there.”
In addition to creating a sites inventory, cities must also provide HCD with the constraints they face that make it harder to build housing – such zoning that makes residential development challenging, for instance. For every constraint identified, cities must come up with a corresponding program to mitigate the issue.
“Overall, HCD requested specific metrics and objectives and timelines attached to actions for all of the programs,” Yau said. “So what we did was we completely reformatted the housing plan in order to accommodate all those details. … By doing so, we also created an implementation schedule (that) highlights how we’re going to implement the proposed programs.”
Some of those programs include reducing parking requirements for affordable housing, creating an incentives program for ADU (accessory dwelling unit) development, and partnering with employers to address the city’s jobs-housing imbalance.
HCD also asked the city to provide specific, concrete actions it will take to achieve these proposed programs.
“These action items do add specific programming, like adding live-work opportunities, updating our impact fees (and) adding steps to improving affordable housing development within our Notice of Funding Availability processes,” the process by which the city allocates funding for affordable housing developers, Yau said.
Yau said the latest draft Housing Element will be submitted to HCD by the end of the week, so by Nov. 18. That will be followed by a 60-day review period, during which “HCD has stated that they will work with us to make minor revisions,” Yau said.
The rezonings that are associated with the Housing Element and the Environmental Impact Report will be brought to the Environmental Planning Commission on December 7, and then to city council January 24.
“Then depending on HCD’s determination of our draft and the input that we get from the city sessions, from tonight and in December from council, we anticipate (an) adoption hearing in early 2023,” Yau said.
Each city and county in the Bay Area must update their current Housing Element to meet state requirements by Jan. 31, 2023.
Commissioners at the Nov. 16 meeting were generally supportive of the changes staff had made in the second draft Housing Element.
A few commissioners suggested erring on the side of higher density to ensure the Housing Element meets state requirements when it’s adopted by the city council early next year. Cities that don’t meet requirements may have to face Builder’s Remedy, a stipulation of the 1990 Housing Accountability Act that allows developers to bypass a municipality's zoning laws if that city is not in compliance with California's housing development goals.
“Quite frankly, this is the Housing Element that I wish we had seen in round 1,” said Commission Chair William Cranston of the draft. “The level of detail, the specificity – I’m happy with what’s there.”