LA City Council majority green-lights fees aimed at easing affordable-housing crunch

A new affordable-housing impact fee could be making its way to Los Altos from the pockets of developers in an effort to help solve the Bay Area housing crisis.

At last week’s Los Altos City Council meeting, council members reviewed details of the proposed fee, which would be used to help develop or rehabilitate affordable housing. The fee was last discussed in 2017, a handful of months after a nexus study was conducted to establish the connection between development and the impact it has on affordable housing.

At that time, the recommended fees included:

• $45 per square foot for multiple-family rental developments

• $50 per square foot for multiple-family ownership developments

• $15 per square foot for nonresidential developments

• $25 per square foot for office developments

The draft ordinance, presented to council members at their May 8 meeting, also provided alternatives for developers that were in lieu of paying the impact fee and would be at the discretion of the council. They included construction of affordable units on-site, dedication of land for affordable units and designation of affordable units off-site.

But if the units were to be built off-site in a city other than Los Altos, some council members wondered whether it would contribute to Los Altos’ Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) numbers. In California, cities are required to have a certain number of different housing units to meet the needs of the entire community.

“We’re talking about that at the Cities Association (of Santa Clara County) – of creating a sub-RHNA area,” Councilwoman Jan Pepper said. “If Santa Clara County did an RHNA area together, then we could be part of that, and if (housing is) built in another city and we provided money for it, then could we get credit for it?”

Community Development Director Jon Biggs told Pepper that the city could acknowledge that a developer was going to build affordable units in another city, but it wouldn’t count toward Los Altos’ RHNA numbers.

Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins said that while she supported the work of the Cities Association, she could not support anything in the ordinance that allowed developers to build housing in other cities.

According to City Manager Chris Jordan, council members would be allowed to negotiate the in-lieu options with developers.

“If a developer comes in and says, ‘I can build two units on-site or I can build three units in another part of Los Altos or 10 units in Mountain View,’ you get to make the choice,” he said. “You get to bargain that. You know what the minimum is.”

Bruins also expressed reluctance to charge fees on residential projects. Pepper, Mayor Jean Mordo and Councilwoman Mary Prochnow, however, were in the majority in asking staff to include an affordable-housing impact fee for residential projects. A majority of council members also asked for the off-site dedication to be within Los Altos city limits.

An ordinance for affordable-housing impact fees is slated to return to the council at its meeting Tuesday.

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