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July 13, 2010 > Housing Element update awaits final certification

Housing Element update awaits final certification

By Simon Wong

The Housing Element is one of the seven mandated elements of a city's General Plan (a set of long-term goals and policies that guide local land-use decisions) and identifies the city's housing needs for all sections of the community including affordable rental and ownership housing for families and seniors, special needs, homeless shelters and transitional housing.

Following the passage of housing element law (SB 375: Redesigning Communities to Reduce Greenhouse Gases), the state of California requires municipalities with state-certified elements to review their critical housing needs every eight years after 2014. In prior years, an update of the Housing Element has been - and is - required to be updated every five years. Hayward's, which awaits state certification, will expire on June 30, 2014.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) reviews and certifies the Housing Element for compliance with state law.

Following meetings with community groups, Council and other stakeholders, the City of Hayward's Draft Housing Element was submitted to HCD on June 24, 2009 (as per the two-year extended deadline granted to jurisdictions belonging to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG)), for initial comment and went through a process of revision and update by the city and further comment by HCD before being heard by the Planning Commission on May 13, 2010.

The city has removed some small parcels, in response to the HCD's concern that they might not support high- and medium-density residential uses, and has introduced a policy of lot-consolidation.

The state requested more information about existing uses and potential for development of non-vacant parcels, particularly in the Route 238 Bypass Land Use Study Area. The city indicated a timetable of availability and disposition of Caltrans sites within the Study Area during the Housing Element's five-year planning period.

Changes to the city's inclusionary housing ordinance prevent the legislation from limiting housing development. Similarly, details on voluntary incentives, funding programs through the Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant, use of Department of Energy funds for energy conservation and the schedule for implementation of the Green Building Ordinance were provided to the HCD to explain how the city will encourage green building standards and energy conservation measures.

The state was also interested in how the city spends its Low and Moderate Income Housing Funds. Programs must specifically fund housing developments for extremely low-income groups. The city provided information about recent, and planned, affordable housing projects, such as the Wittek-Montana Project at South Hayward BART and actions to assist the homeless and disabled.

The city was required to show its permit processing and approval, by zone and housing type, are not onerous by elaborating on the time-frame for typical single- and multi-family projects.

The state deems the 24-acre, former Carlos Bee Quarry site, which has the capacity for 964 housing units, too large and difficult to develop. The Housing Element now includes language that encourages sub-division of the site into smaller, more manageable and easier-to-develop parcels.

Another component of the Housing Element is the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). It is the "fair share" allocation of the state's projected housing needs, mandated by the state to ABAG and other regional councils of governments and metropolitan planning organizations and, in turn, to the cities and counties belonging to them.

Hayward's allocation for the period 2007-14 is 3,393 housing units for Very Low, Low, Moderate and Above-Moderate Income groups. There is no requirement for their physical construction. The city must only show adequate availability of land and appropriate zoning to accommodate them.

Since January 1, 2007, 612 units have been built. The Cannery Area has an entitlement of 575 units and the South Hayward BART Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Project, 788 units. Given a surplus of 88 Above-Moderate Income units, the city must show capacity for a further 1,506 units to meet the RHNA.

The city has identified opportunities for additional capacity. The Mt. Eden Annexation, South Hayward BART and Route 238 Bypass Study areas could accommodate a further 352, 443 and 2,284 units, respectively, satisfying the remaining RHNA to create a surplus of 1,573 units.

Hayward's 20 percent increase in its RHNA [from the 1999-2006 planning period] is low compared to Berkley (92 percent), Oakland (89 percent) and San Leandro (87 percent). Similarly, Hayward's RHNA, expressed as a percentage of the city's population and existing housing stock, ranks fourth-lowest compared to 10 other cities within Alameda County.

The Housing Element now includes a policy of low-impact development practices that safeguard the quality of storm-water run-off to the Bay in response to San Francisco Baykeeper's desire for them in Hayward. The city already enforces the Alameda County Clean Water Program, which employs such practices, thus, obviating the need for further language, ordinances and revisions to CEQA documents.

A fully-certified housing element is beneficial. Changes to SB 375 mean plaintiffs need not have suffered damages to file a lawsuit. Anyone or any organization with an interest in the Housing Element may do so. However, a housing element compliant with state law places the burden of proof on the litigant. A legally-adequate General Plan, therefore, affords a jurisdiction some protection should a housing-lawsuit arise.

The city can apply for Proposition 1C funding and other state monies with a certified housing element. These include infrastructure grants, funds for urban parks and TOD grants. Without certification, South Hayward BART TOD would not have received $47M of Proposition 1C funds.

Certification avoids penalty and reduces staff's workload. Jurisdictions with a certified housing element will be required to produce an eight-year plan (2014-22) in the next update cycle. Those without must complete a four-year plan (2014-18).

Mayor Sweeney is unhappy with the state's inconsistent approach to the Carlos Bee Quarry and Route 238 plans, viz. the requirement to sub-divide the former quarry site into smaller parcels and Caltrans' preference to sell between 50 and 400 acres instead of individual parcels to the city.

The Housing Element is the only General Plan element required to be updated and certified by the state. Council adopted the Mitigated Negative Declaration, the Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program and Final Draft Housing Element, which meets all state requirements, with a 6-1 vote (NO vote by Mayor Sweeney) before submittal for certification.

For more information, visit www.hayward-ca.gov and click on the "Housing Element - UPDATE" link.

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