How about some good news? I am happy to report that at our Oct. 27 Los Altos City Council meeting, the council unanimously voted to move forward with a memorandum of understanding with Santa Clara County to build 90 units of all-affordable rental housing at 330 Distel Drive, near the El Camino Real corridor. The council agreed that 5% of these units would be reserved for extremely low-income households, 50% for very-low-income households and 45% for low-income households.
This is a very positive step for our city, as it provides some of the housing required under the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process.
Between 2015 and 2023, Los Altos has an RHNA requirement to build 477 units across multiple income levels. We have exceeded the new housing required in the “above moderate” income category but have been woefully short at the “very low,” “low” and “moderate” income levels. As of the end of 2019, we have built only 21 out of 169 required very-low-income units, 31 out of 99 required low-income units and 21 out of 112 required moderate-income units – a grand total of 19% of the required affordable units we need to build. In contrast, we have built 472 out of 97 above-moderate-income units – or 487% of what we needed to build.
There have been a number of housing projects proposed or built in downtown Los Altos and along the El Camino corridor, each of which includes a small number of affordable units, but they really only move us in baby steps to meeting our affordable housing requirements. To have a project that will be 100% affordable allows us to make a meaningful dent in providing affordable housing in our community. The next RHNA cycle is underway, and preliminary numbers indicate we will need to build nearly 1,300 additional affordable units between 2024 and 2031.
The property at 330 Distel is being sold by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, where they currently have their offices. They are moving and put the site up for sale. In cooperation with Santa Clara County, the county will pay for the site, select an affordable housing developer, and Los Altos will work with the developer to approve a future housing development on this site.
For an affordable housing project to “pencil out,” the participating government entities need to provide significant monetary contributions. The county is providing more than $10 million by purchasing this land, and Los Altos will provide over $4 million by forgoing the collection of the park-in-lieu and traffic impact fees we would normally collect for a project of this size.
This project is also good news for another reason: It allows us to diversify our community, including providing housing for those who contribute to our wonderful quality of life – our teachers, restaurant workers and other frontline employees. We improve our community by having people who work here also reside here.
Our community can only become better by including a greater diversity of people who can afford to live here.
Jan Pepper is mayor of Los Altos.