Whenever the word “housing” is uttered in the Bay Area, there is sure to be some handwringing. Aside from the controversial Senate Bill 9 legislation, this year also heralds another major housing policy update for the cities of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

In Los Altos, city officials have scheduled their first virtual community workshop 6:30 p.m. Thursday on the city’s Housing Element Update. For more information, visit losaltoshousing.org

Also this month, Los Altos Hills will take its first step in the housing element process with an informational meeting scheduled Jan. 19. A housing element is a state-mandated plan that determines how cities will develop to meet housing needs for the next eight-year cycle.

According to Los Altos Hills planning director Sofia Mangalam, the process “is nothing new.” Every jurisdiction in California has a development plan for allocating housing units. The original housing element law took effect in 1969 – California is now entering its sixth element cycle.

Each plan must be reviewed and approved by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), which also assigns the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) 

numbers that dictate how many housing units must be built during the eight-year period. Los Altos has been allocated 1,958 new units and Los Altos Hills 489 units.

Los Altos and Los Altos Hills officials appealed for a reduction of their assigned RHNA numbers; however, both appeals were rejected in October.

The housing element process will involve a review of current policy and community outreach before the plan is submitted to the HCD for review by January 2023.

SB 9 impact

Despite making no formal reference to the housing element process in its text, SB 9 will affect how municipalities plan for the next eight years of development.

The state requires that cities report the number of units and urban lot splits created as a result of SB 9, but there is no formal connection between SB 9 and the housing element law.

“We are hoping that HCD will give us some guidance as to how to project those housing units,” Mangalam said.

Los Altos Hills residents are already actively battling SB 9. On New Year’s Day, members of Hills 2000 – Friends of the Hills collected more than 100 signatures in support of a proposed ballot measure to undo the effects of the legislation.

Community input

The Los Altos Hills City Council and Planning Commission have scheduled a joint meeting to launch the community input process Jan. 19 via Zoom. Mangalam said the first meeting will be primarily informational, covering topics such as “What is a housing element?” “Why are we talking about it right now?” and “What does the document contain?”

“The community has a major role to play,” she said. “We will be conducting community workshops; we will be conducting online services … to solicit comment and ideas and feedback from the community.”

Mangalam said residents can be especially helpful in the evaluation stage by letting officials know which current policies they’d like to continue in the next plan. In the future, she added, residents will be able to give input as to the inventory of new locations for development.

The town has set up a dedicated email for questions and comments on the housing plan at housingelement@losaltoshills.ca.gov.