The city staff reported that the housing goal could total as many as 4,800 units, 2.3 times increase over the numbers in the current cycle. The higher numbers reflect the Bay Area’s broad failure to build even remotely enough housing to match the explosive job growth coming out of the Great Recession. Jobs grew by 20 percent (more than 400,000) in the Bay Area, while housing stock increased by 7 percent. It was dramatically worse in San Francisco and San Mateo counties with the East Bay adding the most housing (cities such as San Ramon and Dublin as well as communities in Eastern Contra Costa).
By contrast, Southern California permitted more housing and thus will not face significantly higher goals.
The question for the City Council is how these numbers will figure into housing policy moving forward. Despite the failure of the Legislature to enact significant housing legislation in the past session, it remains a priority for both the governor and key legislative leaders.
That brings the discussion to planning East Pleasanton. Pleasanton-based Ponderosa Homes has brought key landowners in the 1,100-acre area into agreement that it would serve as lead developer. The council, back in March 2019, established restarting the planning process as a priority for the next two years. A task force had worked on a plan from 2012 to 2015 when the council decided to suspend the process during the drought.
In Pleasanton’s uniquely slow-moving way, the process recommendation didn’t make it to the council until November 2019 and that process wasn’t ratified until a 3-2 council vote with Karla Brown and Julie Testa opposed last March.
Once the shutdown took effect, the city essentially placed it on the shelf. A Ponderosa official said they have the contract to pay for the city staff work done and it is awaiting the city’s signature. Of course, the current election with three seats (mayor and two council) in play, the outcome will be critical to determining when and if the planning moves forward.
If Brown wins the five-person mayoral race topping fellow termed-out Councilman Jerry Pentin and is joined by like-minded candidates such as Planning Commissioner Nancy Allen and school trustee Valerie Arkin, the direction shifts dramatically.
The process is estimated to take 18 to 24 months so it could be election season 2022 before it is wrapped up.
The broad plan Ponderosa is working on includes about 1,900 homes with about 26% (500) affordable. They are actively considering how to set aside some units for veterans as well as special-needs families. Ponderosa developed the Ironwood project on Busch Road and saw how popular the active adult community has become for empty nesters aged 55 and older. They are considering up to 400 similar units next to the existing community.
The plan also would move the transfer station east of El Charro Road and see that critical north-south road completed as public road (it’s currently private). A kindergarten-8th school site is also in the plan.
Timing is important not only because of the Legislature and the regional housing numbers, but also there’s the underlying zoning on 100 acres. It’s zoned industrial and there’s high demand for industrial land in the core Bay Area. If the planning process stalls, the landowners can opt out of their agreement with Ponderosa and pursue a warehouse/distribution center. The demand for such space can be seen along Isabel Avenue in Livermore where a spec series of warehouses are leased up.
Pleasanton has a checkered history with housing dating from the 1990s and is known among Sacramento housing advocates for its ill-advised 29,000-unit housing cap passed by voters. Non-profit housing advocates successfully filed suit to overturn it. By the time the city settled the suit, it paid $1.9 million in legal fees to the plaintiffs plus another $500,000 for its own outside council. That’s on top of the countless hours of staff time.
It was an expensive lesson and it led to four high-density apartment complexes that were constructed in the same time frame because the land was already zoned as part of the settlement agreement. The good news was Pleasanton had gone more than 15 years without a new apartment complex so the four coming together injected competition into the marketplace resulting in better deals for potential renters.