Mountain View city staff is confident that the city’s housing element – a once-every-eight years process where jurisdictions must prove how they’ll meet state-mandated housing obligations – is going to meet state standards. But Mayor Lucas Ramirez isn’t so optimistic.
“I don’t disagree with the sentiment that we should strive for compliance,” Ramirez said during a Dec. 13 meeting where the council discussed the latest housing element draft.
But, he continued, “I think it’s important to recognize that many cities are struggling to achieve compliance.”
Jurisdictions in Southern California are about a year ahead in the housing element update process, Ramirez said, and yet 45% of their housing elements are still out of compliance. Given these statistics, “I don’t share the optimism that staff has,” Ramirez said.
The city submitted its second draft of the housing element to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), the state agency leading the housing element approval process, on Nov. 18. City Senior Planner Ellen Yau said staff met with HCD on Dec. 12 to receive some initial comments on that draft, which mainly focused on adding detail to existing sections of the element.
“We believe we can make these revisions by Dec. 21, and then the third draft could be out for public review by Dec. 22,” Yau said. “Then we can resubmit to HCD Jan. 3, at the beginning of the year.”
Yau said that HCD did not provide any new comments on the draft housing element’s sites inventory, the list of sites that could be reasonably redeveloped with housing in the next eight years. Mountain View is required by the state to plan for 11,135 additional units in the next eight years, and the latest draft puts the city’s total sites inventory at 17,609, meaning the city is well above its requirements.
The state also requires that cities “affirmatively further fair housing,” or AFFH, meaning that cities commit to getting affordable housing built, and that this housing isn’t condensed in low-resourced areas of the city.
City staff said that in their latest meeting with the state, HCD didn’t provide any new comments about how the draft element addresses affordable housing. But Ramirez was still uneasy about how the current draft distributes potential affordable units throughout the city.
“I have a concern that 95% of our affordable housing will be located in areas where 55% or more of the residents are non-white, which is in conflict with the AFFH goals that are established by the state,” he said. “... Sometimes HCD, despite positive and productive conversations, will nevertheless surprise a jurisdiction with a pretty robust comment letter at the end of the review period.”
Ramirez proposed that the council consider adding some city-owned sites to its inventory, in the event that HCD identifies an issue with the city’s plan for affordable housing. City owned sites are often in high-resource areas, Ramirez said, and it’s easier for the city to control the type of projects and the timing, making it easier to assure it will be developed with affordable housing in the next eight years. The majority of the council supported this idea in the event that HCD has an issue with the draft element’s affordable housing plans.
The council also supported adding a program to the housing element draft that would eliminate parking requirements for 100% affordable housing projects, which makes projects more financially feasible to build.
Finally, the council supported reducing the number of units the city expects to get built on a property located at 1500 N. Shoreline Boulevard, the only property on the sites inventory that’s larger than 10 acres. The city's inventory originally estimated that the location could have around 2,000 new units, which Ramirez said he believes is too lofty a goal. With the council’s recommendation, staff will reduce the number of units expected to come out of this site to a more likely number.