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Op-Ed submitted by Linda Swan, Mayor, Town of Los Altos Hills
In early-February, the Town of Los Altos Hills received two development project applications seeking to use the “builder’s remedy.” Builder’s remedy is a state housing law provision that may require local agencies to approve affordable housing projects notwithstanding local zoning rules, if the city does not have a housing plan in substantial compliance with HCD. In response to related media coverage, Los Altos Mayor Linda Swan wrote the op-ed below to offer a viewpoint into the Town’s Housing Element process and its history with affordable housing.
Recently, there has been a lot of press about the possibility of a couple of property owners and developers in Los Altos Hills proposing to build anything they desire based on what is referred to as a “builder’s remedy” under state law. The Town has also been portrayed as being unresponsive about providing our fair share of market rate and affordable housing. Let’s get the facts straight, shall we?
The Town of Los Altos Hills complied with the Housing Element adoption process outlined under state law. The Town submitted the draft Housing Element to the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for review at least 90 days before adoption. The Town also complied with the state law requirements for providing public notice and public review of the draft Housing Element before submitting the draft Housing Element to the HCD. The Town then consulted with, and received written comments in the form of findings, from HCD. Finally, the Town adopted and submitted the final Housing Element to HCD in compliance with state mandated timelines in advance of the January 31st deadline. In fact, Los Altos Hills is 1 of only 15 agencies out of 37 in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties that submitted their plan on time.
So is the Town’s Housing Element in substantial compliance with state law? The answer is yes. The Los Altos Hills Housing Element not only addresses all of the required components under state housing element law, and incorporates and addresses all of HCD’s findings received, it also addresses issues raised by the public during the public review period.
These achievements did not come easy. After countless open working sessions with the City Council and Planning Commission, the Town Council introduced a multi-family overlay zone for the first time in Los Altos Hills’ history. The Housing Element also includes programs to support the development of housing projects, including ADUs and SB 9 units. In addition, The Town has a full range of programs committed to creating further streamlined submittal and approval processes, waiver of fees, and a review of relevant zoning rules to remove development constraints. The Town did not take its obligation lightly.
People may ask, “Has the Town of Los Altos Hills been responsible in their commitment to providing their fair share of housing?” The answer again is, yes, we have! In fact, Los Altos Hills has a history of doing just that. The Town is one of the few cities in all of California to meet its overall Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) in the most recent Housing Element Cycle. The Town has gone above and beyond by producing almost all of the units in each income category set by its RHNA obligation in the recently completed Fifth Cycle. The Town’s Fifth Cycle RHNA goal was 121 units. They exceeded that goal producing an astounding 153 units in total. In fact, they produced all of the required number of units in the Very-Low, Low- and Above-Moderate income categories. Los Altos Hills was only 8 units short in the Moderate Income category.
These accomplishments highlight Los Altos Hills’ commitment to complying with state housing law and doing their fair share in the provision of housing. The Town is committed to providing affordable housing! The Town strives to protect their local land use control to maintain the character of the community that over 8,000 Los Altos Hills residents call home.
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