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February 4, 2023
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State: Los Gatos has more soul-searching to do on Housing Element

Town hopes to approve document before end of January

While it wasn’t as scathing as it could have been, the long-awaited review from California’s top housing agency found Los Gatos’ Draft Housing Element does not pass muster, as its strides toward addressing the income and racial disparities don’t go far enough.

The Housing and Community Development’s assessment noted Los Gatos stands apart from other Silicon Valley municipalities and said it would require more acknowledgement of the community’s affluence and specific details about how it would help address the housing crisis.

In December, the Town Council voted to make a push to get the Housing Element passed by Jan. 31, 2023, by utilizing the minimum density for calculating residential capacity with the understanding that additional sites may need to be selected to comply with HCD guidelines.

And on Jan. 11, the Planning Commission made a recommendation to the Town Council to adopt the Housing Element.

The following day, the findings letter from HCD appeared in the Town’s inbox.

Despite the fact that it heaped a bucketload of extra work on their plate in one fell swoop, staff was generally upbeat about the message.

“HCD determined that the Town’s Draft Housing Element addresses many statutory requirements but identified revisions necessary to comply with State Housing Element law,” said Associate Planner Jocelyn Shoopman. “Town staff and the Housing Element Update Consultant are in the process of reviewing and evaluating the letter.”

In the letter, HCD said Los Gatos must go a little more in-depth about regional patterns and trends.

“This is particularly important since the Town appears far different from the rest of the region,” it said. “The analysis should address all components of the assessment of fair housing (e.g., segregation and integration, disparities in access to opportunity) and should focus on race, income, and overall access to opportunity).”

It went on to ask for fleshed-out information on what the State refers to as Racial Concentration of Affluence as well as incomes in town.

“The element briefly mentions incomes in the Town compared to the region and notes it is safe to speculate the Town has neighborhoods that are RCAAs; however, the entire Town is a RCAA and the element should incorporate this information.”

Under the section titled “Disproportionate Housing Needs, Including Displacement Risk,” HCD said Los Gatos needs to zoom-out a bit when describing housing in the plan.

“The element includes some information on cost burden and overcrowding but should also discuss local patterns of housing conditions,” it reads. “For example, the element should discuss areas of the Town where proportions of housing units needing rehabilitation may be higher than other areas and may utilize local knowledge such as qualitative information from code enforcement staff.”

HCD also keyed-in on the extent to which the draft is in line with the federal Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing program.

“The element must include data on the location of regional housing need allocation (RHNA) sites by income group relative to all fair housing components,” the letter states. “The analysis should address the number of units by income group and location, any isolation of the RHNA by income group, magnitude of the impact on existing concentrations of socio-economic characteristics and discuss how the sites improve fair housing conditions.”

According to HCD, while the element includes some general background on

exclusionary practices, the State officials were expecting to find Los Gatos had shared a little bit more.

“It should relate these situations to the Town and complement data and mapping with other relevant factors that contribute to fair housing issues in the Town,” the letter states. “For instance, the element can analyze historical land use; zoning and barriers to housing choices such as past denials of affordable housing, local land use initiatives or proposed referendums; investment practices; seeking investment or lack of seeking investment to promote affordability and inclusion; information about redlining/greenlining, restrictive covenants and other discriminatory practices; land use related lawsuits; local land use initiatives; demographic trends, or other information that complements the state and federal data.”

HCD did not make anyone available for an interview with the Los Gatan.

However, Megan Kirkeby, the agency’s deputy director of housing policy, sent a statement.

“Numerous legislative changes this cycle—including the obligation to affirmatively further Fair Housing means more than ever,” she said. “Through their housing element, local governments must address the legacy of issues that have brought us to this point in the housing crisis. It’s a long road but a worthy one.”         

Joel Paulson, the Town’s community development director, and Jennifer Armer, the planning manager, will meet with the citizen group Democracy Tent Jan. 19 at 7pm at the LG Adult Rec Center on Main St., in an open forum, to provide an update to community members.

Lee Fagot, the group’s moderator reminded prospective attendees about the stakes.

“The Housing Element, which defines sites and densities for a minimum of 1,993 new housing units to be allowed in Town over the next eight years, at various market rates, is to be in compliance with all the state guidance or forfeit local control,” he said. “There has been some concerns expressed by citizens that these numbers and sites are more than three times prior mandates for the Town and will change the character of the Town. And, with maximum build out at all the sites listed, the number of units could be a multiple of the 1,993. Further, with new legislation now in place, failure to get approval for the Town’s Housing Element on time and within the State’s other requirements, such as numbers within certain affordability levels, would allow developers to build units they choose without town approvals, or even their neighbors input and consideration, called ‘Builder’s Remedy,’ as well as facing fines imposed by the State Attorney General.”

Council will hold a public hearing to consider adoption of the Housing Element on Jan. 30, in hopes of just squeaking the document in on deadline. The meeting starts at 7pm.

Drew Penner
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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