Once again, Los Altos Hills leaders and other residents have made a case against proposed housing bills under consideration within the State Legislature, the latest round of protests taking place last week during a town hall forum.

More than 170 people Zoomed in to the virtual March 31 meeting, hosted by Hills2000, a grassroots advocacy organization supporting local control over zoning and land-use decisions. The forum commenced with a presentation from reps of a Southern California neighborhood coalition fighting Senate Bills 9 and 10 and concluded with questions and comments from the sizable audience.

“They’re going to subdivide the entire state,” said Jeff Kalban of Sherman Oaks, an architect and chairperson of the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council Planning and Land Use Committee. He shared presentation duties with his wife, Maria Kalban, founder of United Neighbors, the coalition.

California senators introduced the two bills with the intent of generating much-needed affordable housing within the state. Los Altos Hills councilmembers have passed a resolution opposing SB 9.

SB 9 would allow the splitting of residential lots into two equal-sized parcels with up to two units on each of the new lots if the proposed development meets certain requirements. It would exempt projects from review by the California Environmental Quality Act, which is meant to limit negative environmental impacts caused by development. The bill is currently under review in the Senate Housing Committee.

SB 10 would permit local jurisdictions to zone any parcel to accommodate up to 10 housing units if the parcel is an urban in-fill site (vacant land surrounded by developments) or if it’s located within an area deemed transit-rich or jobs-rich. SB 10 is currently in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee.

The Kalbans and others insist the two bills do not actually create affordable housing because they do not mandate it. Instead, they are merely methods for enriching developers and land speculators.

Los Altos Hills Mayor Kavita Tankha has led her town’s charge against SB 9 and 10. She argues increased density would make the Hills more susceptible to wildfire; would congest its narrow, precarious roads; and would place strain on infrastructure such as water and sewers.

“It’s incumbent on us to be part of the solution, and I think that’s what we feel strongly about in this town,” Tankha said during last week’s meeting. “We are concerned that a one-size-fits-all policy just doesn’t make sense in the context of our hillside community.”

‘A real emergency’

Members of the public shared their thoughts by calling in or through Tankha’s selection from typed, submitted input via Zoom’s comment feature. Most, Los Altos Hills residents, agreed with her assessments. Some blamed the tech industry for creating the housing crisis and suggested local tech giants such as Google and Apple should share responsibility for solving the problem. One woman inquired whether Foothill College, Fremont Hills Country Club and/or the local church and synagogue could accommodate affordable housing.

Perhaps it’s even possible to construct an accessory dwelling unit at Westwind Community Barn, said City Manager Carl Cahill.

Two nonresidents, however, questioned whether these ideas are feasible solutions. One is a Synopsys employee from Los Altos who can’t afford to live in his former city. The other is a regional director of YIMBY Action, a housing advocacy group.

“Even though Los Altos Hills isn’t a job center, there are certainly workers who serve your community, who watch your children, who are your gardeners, and those people need places to live, and they are really, really struggling right now,” said Kelsey Banes of YIMBY.

Banes added later: “Los Altos Hills, if you’re not going to be accepting of state-level interventions, my question is, ‘What are you going to do as a city to address our housing crisis?’ Because it’s a real emergency. We need to be acting now.”

As of Thursday (April 8) morning, a Hills2000 petition opposing SB 9 and 10 had garnered 54 supporters.

To view a video of the town hall, visit vimeo.com/531898751.