The Mountain View Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) was slated to discuss and recommend adoption of the city’s Housing Element last week, but the public hearing was postponed after city staff said the draft element isn’t ready for approval.
“Staff met with HCD (the state Department of Housing and Community Development) staff earlier today, and they provided additional substantive comments” on the city’s draft Housing Element, Advance Planning Manager Eric Anderson said during the Jan. 4 meeting. “... Based on this, staff is not recommending that the EPC act on the draft until the necessary changes are made.”
Some of the issues the state identified include “recategorizing sites that should be considered pipeline versus inventory, the need to make additional findings, providing additional programs, and providing more opportunity for non-English speakers to comment on the draft,” Anderson said.
The Housing Element update is a once-every-eight-years, state-mandated process during which jurisdictions must prove how they’ll meet housing development quotas – also called the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) – set by the state. Cities must identify a sites inventory, a list of sites that could reasonably be developed into housing in the next eight years, as well as a list of pipeline projects, or developments that are already in motion.
Cities must also prove in their Housing Elements how they will affirmatively further fair housing, or “AFFH” as the state calls it, by creating programs that promote low-income housing development and other state housing objectives.
Cities are required to submit compliant Housing Elements to HCD by the end of January. Those that don’t meet the deadline face a slew of potential consequences, like ineligibility for state grant funding and costly fines. Non-compliant cities will also face what’s called Builder’s Remedy, a stipulation of the 1990 Housing Accountability Act that allows developers to bypass a city’s zoning laws if that city is not in compliance with California's housing development goals. In other words, developers could pursue projects with little to no local oversight.
So far in the process, Mountain View has been on track to meet the end of January deadline. But during the city council’s last Housing Element discussion in December, Mayor Lucas Ramirez expressed some major apprehension around whether the city’s draft was close to compliance.
“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,” Ramirez said at the time. “... 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.”
Sure enough, HCD did exactly that in its meeting with the city on Jan. 4, prompting staff to recommend that the EPC move its discussion and approval of the draft to a future date.
“We’re going to be working on them as fast as we can,” Anderson said of the changes recommended by HCD. “I don’t want to promise a date for the commission or council, but some of these grants that we want to make sure that we’re getting, the application dates and things like that start around the end of March, so that’s kind of an informal target for us.”
Given this timeline, it’s almost certain that the city won’t meet the Jan. 31 deadline. After January, it becomes a race against the clock to ensure that the city doesn’t miss out on any major funding opportunities or get stuck with Builder’s Remedy projects that flout local standards.
“Our major goal is just to try to make sure that we’re eligible for as many grants as we can,” Anderson said.