We’re all breathing a little easier now, figuratively and literally, following the easing of mask requirements last week and the end of the tiered COVID framework. There’s a sense of greater freedom – and relief. Things are looking up.
Still, as we recover from the pandemic, another challenge lies ahead for Los Altos and similar communities across the state dominated by single-family residences: accommodating high-density housing development.
A raft of new pro-housing laws may mean big changes for cities like Los Altos. For instance, State Senate Bill 9, currently moving through the Assembly, allows single-family lots to be split, with two units on each side.
Then there’s the new housing element. As part of the general plan, it lays out a strategy for quantity and location of new housing, both market-rate and affordable. It’s renewed in eight-year cycles. Los Altos is working on a new one for January 2023.
Los Altos is assigned what’s called Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers. For the next housing cycle, the city is expected to provide 1,958 new units – 843 market-rate and 1,115 deemed affordable.
These expectations seem downright insane when you look at the last cycle. Here are numbers collected from the Los Altos Affordable Housing Alliance: five net new affordable housing units generated between 2014 and 2020 – three low-income, two moderate. There were 164 “above moderate” or market-rate units generated. That’s 169 units in six years.
Pro-housing advocates acknowledge it will be difficult, but the city can meet these numbers through high-density on El Camino Real, accessory dwelling units, upzoning and rezoning commercial areas, and the passage of SB 9.
At its meeting Tuesday – after the Town Crier’s print deadline – the Los Altos City Council had on its agenda an item appealing the assigned RHNA numbers. The council also was set to sign off on a new city manager – one who worked on a successful new housing element for his former town of Sierra Madre. Perhaps he can work the same magic here. Because magic is what it may take to meet the new RHNA targets.