Clear Warnings Council Could Lose Local Control Over Development

October 18, 2022

Dear Editor,

In your article about housing developers taking advantage of the City Council’s failure to approve a Housing Element, Councilmember Phil Brock laments that 4,000 new units of housing, including one 15 story project, are now exempt from local zoning (“City Officials Caught Off Guard by Flurry of Development Submissions,” October 13, 2022).

I’m sure he’s not happy. After all, he campaigned in 2020 on a 4/3/2 platform, promising voters a maximum height of four stories downtown, three on our boulevards and two in our residential neighborhoods. I imagine his supporters are even less happy.

However, instead of taking responsibility (along with his no-growth colleagues) for slow walking approval of a Housing Element to the point our zoning was suspended by state law, Councilmember Brock blamed City staff, saying, “Why didn't they tell us as a Council so we could do something to combat this?" Apparently until last week he was unaware of the consequences of a non-compliant Housing Element.

So I took a look back at past agenda items on the Housing Element and found this language in the October 12th, 2021 staff report under a section titled Ramifications of Future Non-Compliance: “the City could lose control over certain land use decisions related to housing projects if it fails to adopt or maintain a compliant housing element.”

In addition, if one watches the video of that meeting, at about the 36-minute mark Planning Manager Jing Yeo showed a PowerPoint slide with this warning about producing a non-compliant document: “Failure to implement Housing Element still allows housing projects with at least 20% affordable units to proceed even if they exceed Zoning/LUCE.” And of course Ms. Yeo noted this possibility in her accompanying oral presentation.

One can go back even further and find this correspondence from a housing advocacy group attached to the June 15th, 2021 staff report: “Pursuant to the Housing Accountability Act, cities without a compliant housing element lose the ability to deny 20% below-market-rate (BMR) projects on the basis of local zoning.

"Almost any 20% BMR project, of any size, on any parcel in the city would become legal. Developers could build skyscrapers on streets like Georgina and there is not a thing the city could do to stop them. This is not a penalty way off in the future -- it could happen this fall if we fail to adopt a compliant housing element by the deadline.”

I’m not sure the prospect of losing local control could have been made any clearer to anyone who diligently read the pertinent staff reports.

Is it too much to ask of our elected officials that they take responsibility for their errors instead of pointing fingers at others? What did Harry Truman say about where the buck stops?"

Ted Winterer
City Councilmember 2012- 2020

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