How the State Is Changing Local Housing Decisions

On January 24th, SPUR held a forum to discuss the state and regional perspective on local land use decisions. Panelists included:

+ Leslye Corsiglia / SV@ Home
Reed Moulds / Sand Hill Property Company
+ Jonathan Scharfman / Universal Paragon Corporation
+ Sen. Scott Wiener / California State Senate
+ Moderator, Kristy Wang / SPUR

Moderator Kristy Wang kicked off the discussion describing the package of housing bills approved in 2017, one of which included Senator Scott Wiener’s SB35. The legislation provides streamlined housing approvals in cities that have not met their housing targets. He described his frustration with the lack of teeth to regional housing goals assigned to every jurisdiction, enabling as much as two-thirds of cities to miss their goals. The new law is an attempt to provide some accountability to the regional planning process.

The redevelopment of the Vallco Town Center in Cupertino is the highest profile SB35 test case. As Reed Moulds explained, Sand Hill Properties had two plans under consideration: one framed by SB35, and another initiated by the City. In an effort to block the development from occurring, the opposition group Better Cupertino successfully qualified a referendum to overturn the Council’s decision.  Despite the referendum, Sand Hill Properties will leverage the option to move forward with the SB35 version of the Plan, converting the blighted mall into a mixed-use development with 2,402 housing units.

Jonathan Scharfman of Universal Paragon shared the history of the Baylands planning process, which initiated in 2005, and described how Brisbane responded to the State’s increasing interest over housing decisions.  As opposed to the Vallco site, the Baylands was ineligible for SB35. Instead, the Bay Area state delegation authored a draft 2017 bill that threatened streamlined approvals of Universal Paragon’s plan, which included 4,434 housing units. In response, the Brisbane city council negotiated a compromise for a scaled-back plan and in November 2018, sent the Baylands General Plan Amendment (GPA) to the voters. It was critical for Brisbane to have the vote of the people to reaffirm this major decision.  The ballot passed with 55 percent of the vote, tasking the City of Brisbane to implement the GPA.

As co-chair of CASA, Leslye Corsiglia helped facilitate a regional effort that recently delivered their recommendations in a form of a Compact. The CASA Compact focuses on the “3-Ps”: Protection for renters, Preserving existing affordable homes and the Production of more homes. Although regional implications must be considered with housing decisions, she also sympathizes with local officials when facing these difficult choices. “People care about parks, they don’t want housing.” For this reason, housing advocacy groups like SV@Home are critical in providing support to local electeds when facing these challenges.

The stark contrast between Cupertino’s resistance to housing that resulted in a State-driven development, versus Brisbane’s leadership in advancing a plan acceptable for their community provides a cautionary tale. As opposed to their peers, Brisbane responded to the State’s actions by taking initiative, thereby retaining local control. With Sacramento’s increasingly strong stance on housing, perhaps the Bay Area can address this “tragedy of the commons” by embracing the benefits of regionalism.

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