Los Altos Hills faces swell of state-mandated housing

Prepped by an email Planning Director Zachary Dahl sent earlier in the week, Planning Commissioner Jim Waschura was flabbergasted even before Dahl began delivering his Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) report to the commission Thursday.

“Five-hundred and forty-five homes?!” Waschura said.

Commission chairman Rajiv Patel laughed.

Yes, 545 homes. That’s the proposed number of housing units the town could be responsible for creating during the state’s RHNA 2023-2031 housing cycle, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) Executive Board. The board met Oct. 15 to consider a methodology for distributing 441,176 housing units allocated to the nine-county Bay Area region as a whole. By comparison, ABAG’s Housing Methodology Committee proposed assigning Los Altos 2,267 units and Mountain View 11,380 units.

The California government requires local jurisdictions to plan for housing needs across income levels, and the RHNA process determines allocations for eight-year cycles. A region’s responsibility is based on population predictions and factors such as proximity to jobs and transportation.

Santa Clara County, the center of Silicon Valley, has been assigned 33% of the regional total.

Of Los Altos Hills’ proposed 545-unit allocation, the ABAG methodology committee decided 234 should be for families with above-moderate incomes (greater than 120% of the Bay Area’s median income), 91 should be for those with moderate incomes (80-120% of the area’s median income), 81 should be for those with low incomes (50-80% of the area’s median income) and 139 should be for those with very-low incomes (less than 50% of the area’s median income).

“We don’t have to produce (the units),” Dahl told commissioners Thursday. “We just have to ensure the policies and zoning and densities are in place to allow property owners to develop in such a way that it could facilitate it.”

Los Altos Hills is required to construct 121 units during the current housing cycle, which commenced in 2015 and ends in 2023. As of April, when the town last reported to the state, 67 units had been produced, but Dahl’s department has since issued building permits for 19 accessory dwelling units, and an additional 11 ADU applications are under review. ADUs are the town’s primary mechanism for providing affordable housing.

Search for solutions

Jurisdictions are expected to update the housing elements contained within their general plans to provide “road maps” for meeting RHNA requirements. And there will be a “high degree of accountability” for cities and towns to follow through, Dahl warned. Failure to comply could lead to financial liability.

In addition to employing ADU construction to meet RHNA goals, Waschura suggested staff explore selecting certain areas in town for higher population densities. He offered up The Forum at Rancho San Antonio, a senior living community in Cupertino, as an example.

Commissioner Birgitta Indaco mentioned the possibility of multifamily student, faculty and employee housing on Foothill College’s Los Altos Hills campus; the town’s 2009 housing element identified the college as a suitable site for such development, though the Foothill-De Anza Community College District would ultimately have to sign off on it.

“I know we have a developer who likes to do a higher density of housing,” Waschura said facetiously. “I think we should connect them up (with) Foothill.”

Presumably, he was referring to Forrest Linebarger. Earlier in the evening, the commission accepted conditions of denial for permits that would have allowed Linebarger to develop two substandard Mora Drive properties.

ABAG will approve a final methodology for the 2023-2031 housing cycle and issue draft allocations in the spring, followed by an appeal period before allocations are finalized by the end of next year. Housing element updates are due by January 2023.

Members of the public may comment during a remote ABAG Regional Planning Committee hearing scheduled 1 p.m. Thursday. The agency will accept public comment until noon Nov. 27.

Dahl is expected to deliver an RHNA report to city council members when they convene Nov. 19 for their monthly meeting.

For more information on next week’s ABAG Regional Planning Committee hearing, visit

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