The packed council chambers and vocal frustration that marked past meetings related to Orinda’s Housing Element update gave way, during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, to a lightly-attended, give-and-take, workshop-like environment.
The process of updating the Housing Element had produced a contentious environment that ultimately spawned an effort to draft a separate version of the update outside of the City’s update process. Following the last Council meeting on Aug. 20, community advocacy group Orinda Watch posted an edited version of the City’s update and solicited public comments, which it then incorporated into a “citizens’ draft” of the Housing Element that it submitted to the City for Council consideration.
However, during what, at past Council meetings, would have been an acrimonious public comment period, speakers and Council Members Tuesday night engaged in a back-and-forth discussion of specific areas of concern presented in citizens’ draft.
The overarching objectives of the two drafts, stated by both the City and representatives of Orinda Watch, were to maintain neutrality of language rather than editorializing aspects of the plan or process, and winning certification by the State without including information or policy direction not required by law. Council members directed City Staff to craft another draft of the update incorporating the edits from the citizens’ draft that fit with the larger, common objectives. Likely bits of the text not to make the new city draft include references to the Association of Bay Area Governments process for calculating the amount of housing cities are required to plan for in their housing elements.
The Housing Element update is required by state law and is designed to demonstrate how each municipality plans to accommodate its “fair share” of regional growth across the affordability spectrum. Specific numbers of residential units addressing specific income levels are handed down as Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA, numbers by a regional planning body called the Association of Bay Area Governments. The process employed by ABAG has come under fire by critics who argue that the state and regional bodies have too much control over land use decisions that should remain at the local level.
There was no indication by members of the public, or Orinda Watch, as to whether they were satisfied with how the City may treat the details of the update, such as those related to the proposed rezoning of a 3.2-acre parcel owned by Santa Maria Church near Altarinda Dr. One of the more contentious parts of the original draft, residents and community groups had, in the past, expressed concerns about impacts from changing the current zoning of the lot from 10 units per acre to 20-25 units per acre to satisfy the City’s requirement to plan for high-density, low and very-low income housing. While the City Council did not alter its plans to rezone the property, it did direct staff to contact the California Department of Housing and Community Development, or HCD, to see if a fixed 20-unit per acre designation, rather than a range, would be acceptable for certification.
Another version of the Housing Element draft including the community edits that fall within the guidelines set down by the City Council is expected to return for review at the Oct. 1 council meeting. Orinda’s updated Housing Element must be certified by the HCD by the end of January 2014 or the city risks being out of compliance with state law and losing regional transportation funds.