I saw the Los Altos City Council discussion of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) appeal, and heard public comments that were described in the June 30 article in the Town Crier. The article made me think further on the discussion. The RHNA appeal is a good idea, but I’d like to see a better context presented to the public as to the reasoning behind it.
There is a thick soup of new laws and regulations being slowly simmered in Sacramento. The motivation seems to be this idea that cities are inhibiting housing growth, which I don’t see at all. Just saying that Los Altos is appealing its quota sounds terrible. So here are some ideas that should be factored into the city response to RHNA and the lawsuit pending about the local RHNA process in the Bay Area.
• YIMBYs (Yes In My Backyard) are suing the Association of Bay Area Governments and saying that the aggregate of the RHNA numbers is too low. Los Altos really should file an amicus brief in that case, as Ron Packard commented. He wasn’t commenting about the share of RHNA put on Los Altos, but about the idea of resisting increases to the total. I happen to think that the factors YIMBYs cite are good arguments for reducing the total RHNA numbers in the Bay Area. The truth is the RHNA number total for the Bay Area is probably too high to start with. The amicus brief should point that out. It’s true across all cities, not just for Los Altos. It’s a primary reason behind the difficulty Los Altos has faced in meeting the current RHNA goal. That much housing wasn’t needed in the first place. YIMBYs’ arguments for reassessing it in current conditions support lowering the total number – that is, for all cities in the region.
• A big issue to me is that there is no need to force or quota-ize market-rate housing. We all know that even in Los Altos, we met the market rate quota. I believe that would have happened even without an RHNA quota for it. (However, the city did not file the right report and that got us zapped with Senate Bill 35 as a cudgel on the 40 Main St. project. That gets too little attention. That project gets to build luxury apartments and then commercial with no parking because Los Altos failed to file a form.)
• The real issue is funding for the below-market-rate (BMR) unit housing. Los Altos is at a severe disadvantage on that because it has no source of revenue even imaginable to meet the full cost of the quota number of units. On that basis alone, Los Altos has cause to appeal the RHNA quota for affordable housing. Instead of appealing the number of BMR units, Los Altos should appeal for funding for subsidizing those units, and point out that the process is not reasonable in calculating the ability of Los Altos to fund the units. Hence the number of units required is too high because it is simply unfundable.
• It seems ironic to me that in Los Altos, a lot of the regional job growth is coming from the North Bayshore area of Mountain View and Google. There is a special provision in state law that directs growth in property-tax revenue from that area to a special Shoreline Regional Park district. Funding is taken from the county, cities and school districts. The amount is growing precisely because of an inordinate growth in office space there. So I would suggest that Los Altos ask for some revenue from that special district to help it to subsidize BMR housing units. It seems more than reasonable to me. Los Altos officials could ask that the RHNA number be delayed until that funding is made available.
• You could also just write a letter to the Mountain View City Council and ask that it direct Shoreline funds to subsidizing BMR housing in the overall area, including Los Altos.
David Roode is a Los Altos resident.