Monday, April 29, 2019

CASA Response Draft

At our last meeting, the Council agreed that writing a letter to the legislature in an effort to influence future housing legislation was a good idea.  Since I raised the issue initially, I was glad to take point on crafting the initial draft to be presented at the next meeting. 

Because I find engagement so valuable, I am seeking comment and feedback on the initial draft before it gets circulated to the rest of the Council (we're not allowed to discuss among ourselves outside of public meetings).  The response letter as well as attachment is below:

Response letter:


Please send me comment or suggestions.  Not all comments will be incorporated, but I will consider everyone's feedback before presenting the draft.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

4.16.19 Meeting Summary

Last night there were a few things discussed, the largest of which was housing related to the CASA compact.  A brief summary of what transpired:

A second reading of a new sign ordinance regarding non-commercial signs following a previous discussion on 2.5.19 and 4.2.19.  I reiterated my previous opposition restricting speech  and didn't see a need to rehash previous arguments.  The ordinance passed 4-1 with me voting no.

I gave a presentation regarding the CASA Compact:

CASA was formed to address the housing crisis in the Bay Area. Through a series of proposals, CASA recommends raising money in all the ways that governments can raise money, except for actually printing it. If executed, CASA would:
  • Create a new unelected quasi governmental body that could
  • Levy and collect additional taxes
  • Issue debt
  • Impose fees on just about everyone.
With this money, the unelected regional quasi governmental body would seek to:
  • Override local zoning eliminating single family zoning in many Bay Area neighborhoods
  • Provide financial incentives to builders
  • Push for public land to be used for affordable housing
  • Reduce environmental review for new developments
  • Impose rent control
  • Fund tenant litigation
  • Force landlords to pay for tenant relocation
After much discussion, and because many of these things would be implemented through state legislation, the Council agreed that we should draft a letter addressed to all of our state and local representatives.  This letter would communicate our guiding principles stating our position as a city, what we are in favor of and provide constructive commentary on what we are opposed to.  

I will take point on drafting this letter for Council discussion and present it at our next meeting.

The Council also agreed to engage with an executive search firm to replace our City Manager who announced his upcoming retirement.  Mayor Catalano and Vice Mayor Pierce sought to create an a sub committee to shepherd that process.

More detailed thoughts below:

When I asked for this item to be placed on the agenda so we could discuss, I simultaneously asked if we could have a representative from ABAG or MTC join us and share information about this important topic.  At the time, I was told that there either wasn't time, or that they are doing outreach through other channels.  So when I learned that Vice Mayor Pierce invited Brad Paul, the Deputy Executive Director, Local Government Services of MTC, I was pleasantly surprised.  Mr. Paul gave an update on the current status of many items, and encouraged the Council to make their voice heard so as to influence upcoming legislation.  The only unfortunate thing was that the Council did not take action sooner - CASA has been in the works for nearly 2 years.

There was also the implication that the information presented may have contained errors.  Granted the material is quite complex with many moving parts, it's entirely possible.  Because the outreach by MTC and ABAG was insufficient as they characterize it, much of the information presented needed to be obtained by reading through the hundreds if not thousands of pages of presentation material, news articles, watching committee meetings, reading proposed and pending legislation.  If there are actually any errors, I welcome the feedback so that I can update anything that warrants correction.

The problems I identified with CASA took three main flavors:

  1. Loss of local control
  2. Applying a one size fits all approach to large and small cities
  3. Lack of attention around transit and other infrastructure related to increased housing

Each member of the Council expressed their support for local control, and spoke against a one size fits all approach.  Other comments from the Council alleged that the presentation was meant to be divisive, however with the overall agreement on the main ideas above, it's hard to see the division.  In the marketplace of ideas, disagreement is not divisive.   It certainly is not divisive to seek to understand where our elected officials stand on issues that matter to the community.  And given the scope of what is being proposed I think a presentation on this important matter is long overdue.

These proposals that are in front of the legislature right now have the potential to impact everyone in Clayton, the Bay Area, and the state.  Things like increasing sales taxes, parcel taxes, gross revenue taxes, are serious matters and should be discussed as information is available.  We should not wait until a final bill is presented or even passed to have that conversation.

The effort to override local zoning, encouraging 75 and 85 foot towers in single family residential zones that could be adjacent to existing homes could have a dramatic impact on neighborhoods.  Providing an exception to environmental review for development projects could have significant unintended consequences of the sort that environmental protections are supposed to guard against.  Making things more expensive for homeowners with increased parcel taxes, more expensive for businesses with gross receipts and head taxes, and more expensive for everyone with increased sales taxes and issuing debt - could have significant downstream impacts that are difficult to address after the legislation is enacted.

As is always the goal, mine is transparency, engagement, and making sure our elected leaders hear and listen to their constituents.  To that end, after I draft a letter that describes the city's overall position, I will offer it here and seek input.  Look forward to a future post with a draft and please subscribe via the link on the left to receive updates as they are published.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Upcoming Council Meeting 4.16.19 – Housing is back on the agenda

At a previous meeting, I requested a future agenda item regarding the CASA Compact that was endorsed recently by both the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and it will be coming up at our next meeting on Tuesday. The CASA Compact is a mechanism to address the region's housing affordability crisis by identifying and unifying behind bold, game-changing ideas.

This will certainly have an impact on everywhere in the Bay Area and we will be discussing what that can mean for Clayton.

If you have thoughts or questions on this, please comment or contact me and I’ll do my best to respond or find out more and report back.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

4.2.19 Meeting Summary

As mentioned previously there were two substantive issues discussed at the meeting last night. A quick summary:
  • A first reading of a new sign ordinance regarding non-commercial signs following a previous discussion on 2.5.19 as well as discussion at the Planning Commission. I reiterated my opposition to restricting speech except in very rare and limited instances. I did note that the staff report from our City Attorney indicated that the current sign provisions being proposed did carry some risk, as does any restriction on speech. I also noted it was interesting that some members of the Council seemed comfortable with known risks restricting speech but were not okay with risks in other areas like restricting parolees. 
  • A discussion about the content and parameters of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in response to recent changes in state law that nullified Clayton’s rules around ADUs. There are a number of areas in which the state has legislated and eliminated local discretion. The discussion at this meeting concerned areas that the city did have discretion around and what direction to provide staff so that they may draft a new ordinance. Mostly there was agreement, but there were a couple key areas where I disagreed with others regarding setbacks and number of ADUs per property. Please see below for a more extensive discussion. 
For future agenda items, I requested a public hearing to discuss potential improvements to traffic and pedestrian safety around our middle and elementary schools. While myself and Mayor Catalano are members of the MDUSD sub-committee, safety on the roads including traffic and pedestrian safety are not within the purview of the school district, rather they are the responsibility of the city itself.

Our City Manager, Gary Napper also announced his upcoming retirement to be effective at the end of July.  In the short time I've worked with Gary I've really appreciated his knowledge, guidance, professionalism, and patience.  He's been with the city a long time and it will be very difficult to fill his shoes.


More detailed thoughts about ADUs below:

It’s important to remember that the reason we are addressing ADUs is because state law changed. If the city did nothing, then the new state law would control. In order to preserve some areas of local control, there are certain areas that the City has discretion to act in and the discussion tonight was to provide direction to staff in order for them to draft a new ADU ordinance. In general, the Council agreed in a number of areas. Those included: minimum and maximum ADU sqft, maximum ADU height, requirements for own occupancy and establishing a formal appeals process.

We did not come to consensus on the number of ADUs that should be allowable per lot and whether full kitchen and bathrooms should be required.  The area where there was most disagreement however, was regarding setbacks.

Setbacks are an area that the city has discretion in requiring. I advanced the idea that setbacks for detached units should follow the same rules as the primary residence. If an ADU were to be built, they shouldn’t get special treatment different than the primary residence. Other members of the Council disagreed. They thought that in order to encourage more building, reducing the interior setback to five (5’) was acceptable. 

In my view, a structure that is up to 16’ tall and only 5’ away from the side fence line is intrusive enough to reduce quiet enjoyment and quality of life. The setbacks were originally created for a reason and these ADUs are not in substance different than the primary residence. People and families can live in the main house and people and families can live in the ADU. Except one could have one required setback, and the ADU could have a much smaller setback. That inconsistency doesn’t seem right and it’s not what residents bought into when they got their homes.

Ultimately because these residences are serving the same purpose, in the same way, I think the setbacks should be consistent no matter what type of habitable dwelling is being considered. As long as the setbacks for ADUs are consistent with the primary residence, then we will limit the impact these structures may have on surrounding neighbors, while still providing an avenue for increased housing per state requirements.

Given the direction provided by the Council, staff will bring back a draft ordinance at a future date.  It will then be discussed, sent to the Planning Commission, and then return to the Council before any ordinance is enacted.