Out of the 109 jurisdictions that make up the Bay Area’s nine counties, only 15 have passed compliant housing elements. Mountain View is now one step closer to getting on that exclusive list.
At an April 11 meeting, the Mountain View City Council approved the city’s draft housing element, a document that all cities in California must update every eight years. But this housing element cycle has been more intense than ever before – in part because there are now some serious consequences for cities that don’t get it done.
“This is much more challenging than it ever has been,” Council member Lucas Ramirez said of the housing element update process. “This cycle is just orders of magnitude more difficult.”
The state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) assigns each jurisdiction a number of housing units that must be built in the next eight years – also called the regional housing needs allocation (RHNA). Jurisdictions must prove in their housing elements how they’ll get that development off the ground.
Mountain View’s RHNA number for this housing element cycle was higher than ever before, as was the case across the state. The city had to identify enough potential sites to accommodate more than 11,000 new housing units in the next eight years. In the final draft that council approved Tuesday night, the city asserts that it could reasonably build 16,000 units in the next eight years, giving Mountain View a healthy buffer above its RHNA requirement.
The deadline for cities to submit their housing elements to HCD was Jan. 31 this year, but as Ramirez pointed out, the vast majority of cities throughout the Bay Area’s nine counties have yet to do so.
“So every jurisdiction is struggling with this,” he said during the April 11 meeting. “And I’m optimistic that we’ll be among the first to actually have a compliant document within the (Bay Area) jurisdictions.”
As soon as the Jan. 31 deadline passed, the door for potential consequences opened. Cities without compliant housing elements face penalties like ineligibility for state grant funding. They must also contend with builder’s remedy, a stipulation of state law 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 can pursue projects with virtually no local oversight.
As of April 11, the city had received five potential builder's remedy applications, city officials said. Those include:
• 2,200 apartment units proposed at 1500 N. Shoreline Blvd., which is currently home to the Century Cinema 16 movie theater. The project also includes a 100,000-square-foot fitness center, a hotel, and 13,300 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.
• 200 condo units proposed at 1920 Gamel Way.
• 85 condo units proposed at 294-296 Tyrella Ave.
• 385-unit, 12-story residential building proposed at 901 Rengstorff Ave. The proposal includes a lot line adjustment to retain the historic buildings on the site.
• 77 units of multi-family housing at 2645 Fayette Dr. that would replace a 6,900 square foot commercial building and six existing dwelling units.
Getting the council’s stamp of approval is only half the battle: Now, Mountain View’s housing element will head to Sacramento to see if HCD deems it in adherence with state housing law.
Until the city gains that certification, which is expected to take about two months, developers can still submit applications for builder’s remedy projects. If the state certifies the housing element draft, then any builder’s remedy projects submitted going forward would not have to be approved by the city. Only the proposals submitted before the April 11 council approval date would be locked in as builder’s remedy projects.
However, if the state rejects the city’s housing element, then the builder’s remedy door swings back open.
Mountain View’s housing element has already gone through multiple rounds of back-and-forth review with HCD, so city staff said they’re confident that the state will certify the latest draft.
The Environmental Planning Commission was the last city body to review the draft. Both staff and commissioners suggested a few revisions, and the housing element received enthusiastic support from the commission at the March 15 meeting. Some of those revisions included reducing park land fees, streamlining the approval process for affordable housing projects and eliminating minimum parking requirements for certain developments – all changes that aim to reduce housing development barriers, and thereby increase the likelihood of Mountain View’s housing element getting certified by the state.
The Mountain View City Council generally supported these changes at the April 11 meeting, and most council members were eager to pass the final draft. However, Council member Lisa Matichak expressed some qualms and said she was struggling to support the motion.
“I’ve certainly heard from a lot of residents, had conversations with them, and they are concerned about the RHNA number that we’ve been given. They wanted to protest it,” Matichak said. “They are not supportive of a lot of the programs that are in this housing element. And I guess I can’t disagree with them – it feels like this (the housing element) is more reflective of a group of incredibly organized, funded advocacy groups.”
But Matichak was the only council member in dissent: The council voted 6-1 to approve the housing element at the April 11 meeting.
“We are a housing-supportive community,” said Vice Mayor Pat Showalter before casting her vote. “And I think that this housing element reflects it.”