HOUSING AND DEVELOPMENT
Living in Los Gatos, you have probably experienced the impact of new housing and growth, from parking stress to traffic impacts during peak times and the seasonal weekend beach traffic. The reasons behind this growth are complex and often confusing. Terms like ‘ABAG,’ 'RHNA' and ‘housing element’ are often tossed around during debates about growth, but few people understand what they mean or why they matter for Los Gatos.
Why does Los Gatos have to respond to regional growth demands?
California state law requires each city and county plan for its ‘fair share’ of the region’s housing needs to ensure that development is spread equitably and in relation to job growth. The definition of ‘fair share’ is determined by a different agency in each region throughout California. In the San Francisco Bay area, ABAG is the entity that determines each city’s fair share of housing.
What is ABAG?
ABAG, or The Association of Bay Area Governments, is a regional planning agency that was created in 1961 to help coordinate governmental efforts across the Bay Area regarding land use, housing, environmental quality, and economic development. All nine counties and 101 cities within the Bay Area, including Los Gatos are voluntary members of ABAG, along with local transportation and housing agencies.
How does ABAG figure out the ‘fair share’ of housing that Los Gatos must create?
It’s a complex process that begins when the State of California prepares projections for expected population growth. The State then calculates how much of this growth will take place in each region based on the expected number of households and the age and type of housing stock available. Next, each regional planning organization figures out where this growth will take place, and allocates housing targets to each city to match the projections. The amount of housing each city must plan for is called the Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNA). This regional distribution of growth is designed to do three things:
Increase housing supply, affordability and diversity
Encourage efficient development to avoid sprawl and minimize greenhouse gas emissions by reducing commute distances
Promote balance between job creation and housing availability.
Why does ABAG have authority over housing development in Los Gatos?
As an advisory organization, ABAG has no direct authority over Los Gatos. However, there are significant state funds and legal repercussions tied to compliance with the State’s housing requirement allocated by ABAG.
It’s hard to calculate exactly how much money is tied to ABAG compliance but estimates range from as low as $2 million to as high as $10 million a year. The potential lawsuits that could be opened by noncompliance could be even more expensive.
What is the Los Gatos regional housing requirement?
According to ABAG’s calculations, Los Gatos RHNA is 619. This means the Town must plan to create 619 units of housing during the eight years between 2015-2023. The first step in complying with this requirement is to create a Comprehensive Plan including a “Housing Element” that has specific plans for reaching this target.
Here is how the Los Gatos 2015-2023 housing requirement breaks down by type:
Very low income units: 201
Low income units: 112
Moderate income units: 132
Above moderate units: 174 Total: 619
That seems really high? Where is all this development going to go?
Many people have questioned Los Gatos RHNA and some efforts have been made to ask ABAG to recalculate it, or to appeal to the state to adjust it.
But there are a few key points to consider about this housing requirement:
Los Gatos is only required to demonstrate capacity for these housing units by having an adequate amount of land zoned for particular housing types . So long as Los Gatos provides sufficient sites and does not impose constraints to development (i.e., by imposing unduly burdensome regulations), the Town is not penalized for falling short. The RHNA represents a planning target, not a building quota.
Los Gatos is going to grow and it’s better to prepare for it: Planning in response to ABAG’s requirement is part of the process the Town must go through to figure out how and where to build new housing in the next eight years. 2024-2032
If we do not plan for new housing, the need does not go away: By failing to plan for additional housing capacity in a thoughtful way, we risk having haphazard development that could create a future Los Gatos that is very different from the town we love.
Couldn’t Los Gatos just ignore ABAG or drop out?
Unfortunately, California law requires that all jurisdictions in the State must have an adopted and approved Housing Element as part of their General Plans. Los Gatos is legally required to create a Housing Element that meets ABAG’s RHNA targets and is approved by the Department of Housing and Community Development. Even if Los Gatos decided to drop out of ABAG, we would still receive regional housing requirements, only from the California Department of Housing and Community Development rather than from ABAG.
What are the consequences of not complying?
Not only is Los Gatos legally required to comply with its RHNA, there are some serious negative repercussions of failing to have a housing element plan approved.
Lawsuits and lots of them: Developers and advocates have the right to sue Los Gatos if we do not have an adopted and approved Housing Element.
Loss of State funding: Big State agencies, including the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (CIEDB) and the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) award funds based on competitions that require an approved Housing Element. Los Gatos could not apply for these funds without an approved plan.
Even bigger housing requirements in the future: Without an approved plan, Los Gatos would be required to carryover any unfilled RHNA units into future planning efforts. This means that the Towns next RHNA target would include not only for any new growth targets from ABAG but also for the unfulfilled RHNA from the prior planning period.
What happens if Los Gatos gets sued?
Mandatory compliance – The court may order Los Gatos to bring our housing plan into compliance according to external guidelines and requirements.
Loss of local control on building decisions – The court could suspend Los Gatos ability to approve of building permits, zoning changes, or variances.
Expensive legal fees – If Los Gatos is sued due to lack of compliance and either loses or settles the case, it could owe substantial fees ($100,000 or more) to the plaintiff’s attorneys and its own attorneys.
So, what is Los Gatos supposed to do with all this information?
Information is power and understanding; ABAG, RHNA and the Housing Element will help make good choices as a voter and citizen.
What are some possible solutions:
Identify possible land lock properties for annexing and LAFCO approval within the town limits
Identify future locations for low income, medium income and senior housing, possibly in the North 20 area or the undeveloped area of Oka Rd
Existing land use
Keep and maintain the Hillside Development Standards & Guidelines
So what can you do now:
Vote on November 3rd.
I am asking for your Vote and Support so I can serve you and the Town of Los Gatos.
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