Los Gatos Council
Los Gatos Council during their regularly-scheduled Feb. 20 meeting. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

Multiple Council members raised concerns at their regularly-scheduled Feb. 20 meeting that the sprawling motion presented by the Vice Mayor at the prior meeting to protect vast swaths of the community from small multifamily housing was sent off to the Department of Housing and Community Development with a wording change that totally altered its meaning.

The Town Attorney had verified with Vice Mayor Matthew Hudes that he didn’t mean for residential intensification to be prevented only if all of a number of conditions were true (within 500 feet of an evacuation route, “very high” fire risk zone, officially historic or next to pre-1941 homes, more than a half-mile from a public transit stop)—which wouldn’t really make sense given his strong opposition to upzoning.

“So, my understanding of the intent was that all of the places listed be excluded from areas that would be rezoned,” Town Attorney Gabrielle Whelan had said upon the initial presentation of Hudes’ motion Feb. 6. “And so, if that were the case it would say ‘within 500 feet of an evacuation route or (emphasis Whelan’s) more than half-mile from a currently established public transit stop.’”

“That’s my intention, and that clarifies it,” Hudes had replied.

An analysis done by San Jose State University student Jake Wilde published in the Los Gatan suggested changing the word to “or” would exclude at least 90% of Los Gatos’ total area—and likely more depending on how an “evacuation route” is defined—from small and medium-sized homes.

Hudes referenced this map last Tuesday in arguing for where development should be concentrated.

Speaking during public comment, Planning Commissioner Susan Burnett said she wasn’t too happy about the language change, either.

“I was a little concerned because the wording was different than what…had been proposed,” she said. “If the wording in there is different than what we really want and it goes to HCD, then we’re sort of caught. So, we have to be very careful,” she said, noting she was speaking for herself and not in an official capacity. “A lot of people were very, very happy about that vote.”

Rennie, who was the deciding factor in the success of Hudes’ motion, and seemed a little confused about what was in it in the first place, had new questions about it.

“You’ve inserted language based on our motion last time, and it doesn’t read how I recalled the motion,” he said. “It says ‘this zoning will occur in a variety of areas throughout town, but not (Rennie’s emphasis) in areas which’…and everything after it I think is supposed to be excluded. So, it excludes very high fire zones, historic districts, adjacent to homes in historic inventory, in hillside residential zones, within 500 feet of an evacuation route—and then it says ‘within a half-mile of a transit stop.’ I think that’s reversed from what I understood. So, we’re excluding within a half-mile of a transit stop?”

Town Manager Laurel Prevetti said staff got it right.

“We had multiple staff watch the tape, read what was projected and those were the words of the motion,” she said. “We can’t make our minutes based on intent. It has to be based on what was actually said in the record. And so that’s the way the motion is.”

Hudes said he watched the video, too.

“I believe that I conferred with the Town Attorney, because I thought that meaning was incorrect,” he said. “I asked the Town Attorney for language that would correct it, and she said that by changing the word to ‘or’ it would correct that. Then I inquired to the Town Clerk just a couple days after to see if that correction had been made and I copied the Town Attorney on that. And as far as I can tell that was not corrected…I certainly don’t think it was the intent to exclude small multiunit from areas close to transit.”

Lynley Kerr Hogan, another public commenter, urged the Council to stand up to Sacramento, pointing to the Newsom Administration’s professed desire to fix the affordability crisis while not backing it up with the funding to achieve this aim.

“If you give an inch, they’re going to take a mile,” she said. “This is the time to stand up. You’ve gotta be brave. You can do it. You have a lot of people behind you who are willing to help who will stand up and be brave with you. This is the time. Because this town is gonna change forever…We’re going to have more crime, because the more people who are here, the more crime there’ll be…A lot of good people who know what’s going on, they’re going to be leaving.”

To date the Town has spent $360,207.33 on Housing Element consultants this cycle (including paying $312,998.58 of a $413,935 contract with Monterey-based EMC Planning Group, Inc. and $47,208.75 of a $51,100 contract with Veronica Tam & Associates, Inc., a Pasadena firm).

On Feb. 9, the Tam requested feedback from HCD on Los Gatos’ new attempt to block multifamily housing from some low-density areas.

This arrived late in the afternoon prior to the Feb. 20 Council meeting.

In no uncertain terms, HCD said it wasn’t going to fly, according to Councilmember Rob Moore.

They referenced “‘new language excluding missing middle housing types in multiple areas throughout the town,’” and said, “‘The program should remove new language and proceed with previous program language informally reviewed,’” Moore told Council.

This suggests that even though the Town sent in the wrong language, HCD got Hudes’ drift clearly enough to offer that rebuke.

Mayor Mary Badame reminded everyone that she abstained from voting on the initial Housing Element certification.

“I need to get this right for our town,” she said. “We didn’t get it right on Jan. 30 of 2023. And in my opinion, sorry, I feel we hoodwinked the HCD by saying we were substantially compliant. And we were nowhere near substantially compliant.”

Moore moved to strike the previously-approved language and replace it with the original language that reads “expand housing in a variety of neighborhoods,” with Ristow seconding.

But just as Moore sought to undo the Vice Mayor-led resistance to additional housing in single-family zones, Hudes slid in a substitute motion to affirm his original intended language.

Because a substitute motion gets voted on first—and because Rennie was still interested in supporting this protectionist line of thinking, at least for now—Moore was out-politicked.

Hudes’ substitute motion passed 3-2 with Ristow and Moore in opposition, meaning—even as threats of additional Builder’s Remedy projects loom—the showdown with HCD continues.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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