Commission weighs growth strategies amid new bills

The California State Legislature passed more than 100 housing laws in 2019 in an effort to address the housing crisis and encourage environmentally friendly development.

Nearly halfway through the year they took effect, elements of laws passed to regulate development projects are being explained and interpreted in real time. The Los Altos Planning Commission May 21 received three related reports and made observations about what the legislation could mean for Los Altos.

Transportation impacts

Senate Bill 743 requires the city to calculate transportation impacts by Vehicle Miles Traveled by July 1. The city previously measured impacts using Level of Service, which gauges the impact of traffic congestion drivers face in a specific location. Vehicle Miles Traveled measures distance traveled by vehicles across the board in an effort to promote green planning.

City officials hired Hexagon Transportation Consultants to gather information specific to Los Altos and present it to the city council, Complete Streets Commission and the Planning Commission.

The new law may allow the city to screen out smaller projects, such as those that generate fewer than 110 trips daily. But more clarity is needed – both members of the Planning Commission and council have requested specific examples of projects to determine the local impact of SB 743.

Streamlining the system

Laws passed in 2019 related to housing projects took away some city-level control by revoking options like enacting a moratorium on residential applications, Los Altos City Attorney Jolie Houston said.

However, those like Senate Bill 330 – a bill mandating the implementation of a transparent checklist that limits the number of hearings city bodies can hold per project – will mean expectations are more easily understood by developers, city staff and officials.

SB 330 has two phases, according to city planning services manager Guido Persicone. Once a complete application is submitted, planning staff has 30 days to review the application. After being deemed complete, staff has 30-60 days to submit a letter of consistency with the objective standards. Public meetings are scheduled (no more than five, including workshops or study sessions), then it is determined whether the project is exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review within 60-90 days, and final approval is granted.

Commissioner Phoebe Bressack said she envisions “a long line of long meetings” as commissions and the council review development applications line by line.

It has not yet been determined whether a specific schedule will be set on how many meetings each committee will hold, Persicone said.

The legislation was designed not only to incentivize new affordable housing, but also to protect existing affordable housing, Houston said.

Protections for renters ensured through laws like Assembly Bill 1482, which caps the annual rent increase on properties 15 years or older at 5% plus the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index, won’t affect Los Altos as much as they will other cities.

Houston said she knows of no one trying to raze an older apartment building to build new, expensive condos or a retail space. However, she noted that those who live in Los Altos in below-market-rate units are protected through just-cause eviction, relocation benefits and other clauses.

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