Wednesday, September 29, 2021

We Need to Zone for Approximately 570 Additional Housing Units

Last night, the city held a joint meeting with both the Council and the Planning Commission.  The purpose was to receive a presentation by Mig Inc. - our consultants that the city has engaged to assist with the housing element update process.  Ultimately the city is charged with updating our zoning to accommodate for an approximate 570 additional units, at varying levels of affordability.

In Contra Costa County, area median income (AMI) for 2021 is $125,600 based on a household size of four people

These figures come from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and while we as a city appealed this amount as unreasonable for a number of reasons, our appeal was denied along with the appeals of many other cities.  During the appeal hearing, it was made clear that ABAG does not consider environmental impacts, traffic, unsuitability of available land due to potential landslide, flood, or fire when they mandate these additional units to zone.

In addition to this area of the law being complicated, it's also been changed many times over the last several years making the legal requirements vary quite a bit over time.  There were many questions asked of Mig that focused on two main areas - how the process will work, and what the laws are regarding specific requirements.  Unfortunately, there were a number of inquiries that were unable to be addressed due to work not yet being done, or having to do further research.  When we engaged Mig back in May of this year, their experience and expertise were part of the reason they were selected.  Hopefully when we next meet they will be able to provide more information.

Here are the things that I asked for that are open items:
  • Establishment of guiding principals for this process.  Guiding principals ensures that leadership is clear and aligned on the goals that are trying to be achieved.  This process will be long, and along the way there will be many decisions that need to be made.  The establishment of guiding principals facilitates that decision making because it allows staff at every level to test decisions that need to be made against those guiding principals.  This could be things like, should we have as a guiding principal that we want to maximize housing density?  Minimize housing density?  Concentrate impact in as small an area as possible, or disperse impact as much as possible?  Those types of guidelines will help clearly communicate direction to our consultants and to staff.  

  • Detailed project plan and timelines with both internal and external touchpoints and deliverables.

  • Identification of decision points that are matters of public policy.  There are some decisions that can be made even in a process that is as prescribed as this one.  We should identify those so those charged with enacting public policy can make deliberate choices.

  • Detail behind the initial housing site assessment by ABAG that utilized property level data.  The initial assessment of potential housing sites was performed by ABAG and will be the starting point of our own assessment, however the underlying data was not readily available.

  • Moderate income and overall income band calculation formulas and allowable methodologies to satisfy each.  We not only need to zone for an additional approximate 570 units, but they must be at the various income bands as listed above.  We were told that in a small city like Clayton, there is a presumption that any parcel that is zoned for density of at least 20 units/acre would qualify as Low or Very Low income units.  Above Moderate is considered market rate.  During the meeting however, it was unknown what would qualify as Moderate.  I stressed the importance of knowing these details so we can tailor our Housing Element with a focus on complying with the law.

  • Rules regarding the number of ADUs that can be used to satisfy RHNA requirements at all income bands.  California HCD has issued guidance and adopted practices in this space but that information wasn't presented at the meeting.