Members of the Los Altos Hills City Council and Planning Commission last week learned rezoning may be the only option to reach state housing requirements in the town’s next planning period.
Consultant Aaron Barrall, who will lead the project team from Michael Baker International, presented updates and took questions from council members as the town prepares for the next cycle of housing planning. Barrall described the situation of Los Altos Hills as “unique,” given that the town has neither commercial nor industrial land use, while having close proximity to jobs.
The meeting was a first step in preparing the town’s housing element for the 2023-2031 planning cycle. The document must be reviewed and adopted by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) by the end of January 2023.
Throughout the presentation, focus fell on how the town will add the number of housing units required by the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) assigned to it. Between 2023 and 2031, Los Altos Hills is required to add 489 total housing units. Of that number, 197 units must be at “low” or “very low” income level. To achieve the RHNA, Barrall said the town will have to emphasize providing multifamily housing.
Additionally, the state added the requirement that housing elements “affirmatively further fair housing” to the mandates for the upcoming housing element cycle. The requirement also asks that cities create measurable goals with timelines to meet fair housing requirements. Council members expect accessory dwelling units to assist in reaching the RHNA quota; however, Barrall said he does not know of any city that has met its goal primarily through ADUs.
“We do expect that the town will have to rezone for some level of multifamily housing, even if the number of ADUs is significant,” he said.
Also new this housing element cycle is the introduction of HCD’s enforcement arm, which will investigate cases of noncompliance with state housing law. The potential consequences are steep, ranging from fines and penalties to the potential loss of local land control in rare cases. If a city fails to meet its RHNA goal, the remainder will carry over to the next housing unit cycle.
Local residents and council members expressed concern about the town’s ability to meet state requirements in the housing plan. With a 304% increase in the number of units to be added and residents’ desire to maintain the semi-rural character of Los Altos Hills, the town faces a complicated process in the effort to dramatically increase its housing supply.
Whether ADUs and State Senate Bill 9 lot splits can count toward the required RHNA units was front of mind for council members. Councilmember Kavita Tankha noted that towns like Los Altos Hills rely on residents to…