29,000 homes and counting
undreds of pages of reports, analyses, studies, minutes of public hearings and citizens' comments weighed down members of the City Council, staff and many others, including this reporter, at Wednesday night's meeting to finalize Pleasanton's new housing plan.
It's been more than year, since October 2010, that Pleasanton officials have been addressing the city's woefully short share of the region's housing needs as determined by the state-authorized Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the state's Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). The squeeze has been on since 1996 when voters overwhelmingly adopted a housing cap limiting the total number of homes and apartments that could ever be built here to 29,000. It was an effort to keep Pleasanton "small." Although making those who lived here then feel satisfied, that action more than any other is what caused Sacramento and affordable housing advocates to take notice.
Complaints by housing groups were heard over the intervening years, but it wasn't until the city's housing unit numbers reached 26,000, then 27,000 that fur began to fly. State HCD representatives came to town to see if there was enough available land zoned for residential uses to meet the growing numbers they and ABAG required. A demand for accountability went unanswered for too long. Finally, Urban Habitat, an Oakland-based affordable housing coalition, filed a suit asking the Alameda County Superior Court to invalidate the Pleasanton Housing Cap. Gov. Jerry Brown, then the state's Attorney General, joined in the suit. After months of litigation, the court declared the cap illegal and ordered the city to meet Urban Habitat's and the state's demand for more affordable housing, or it would handle the rezoning itself.
The City Council, advised by its outside counsel that Pleasanton probably wouldn't win on appeal, decided to stop the costly litigation and move on. It then started the process that culminated Wednesday night with action that Urban Habitat, the state and the court have agreed complies with the court order.
Wednesday night's action by the City Council was pivotal in the city's political history. Although it rezones 73 acres of properties in various parts of the city for more than 2,200 rental units in high-density apartment complexes, the final numbers when all are built, which could take years, will barely top the sacred 29,000 that voters thought would keep Pleasanton small.
Even so, it's been a long time since our town was really small. With the housing construction surge of the late 1980s and 1990s, the population has grown to a 2010 census count of just under 70,000. Livermore has more than 80,000; Dublin is rapidly catching up. The Tri-Valley is now home to more than a quarter-million people with retail and business centers that rival larger regions across the country. When Stoneridge Shopping Center opened in the 1970s and Hacienda Business Park a few years later, Pleasanton went on the map, perhaps more than many homeowners at that time wanted it to be. BART, the freeways, even the Alameda County Fairgrounds have all added to the attraction of Pleasanton.
Along with growth comes a responsibility for meeting state and ABAG requirements to provide adequate and affordable housing for those whose incomes can't yet meet the median home costs of Pleasanton. These include young families, those new in the workforce and those whose jobs simply don't pay enough for home ownership. That's why ABAG studies Bay Area cities under its domain and assesses, with state approval, the numbers Pleasanton now has to meet. Be aware, though, that it's not over. ABAG is already holding public hearings on how to meet the needs of the Bay Area through 2040 as more housing is needed. Without doubt, Pleasanton will have new number requirements and likely the need for another City Council to establish a new Housing Task Force all over again.