Those of us involved in local government talk about the importance of local control. The thinking is that those who live in the community know best what the community needs. I agree. Therefore, if we don't want the state deciding our fate, we need to act in our own best interest.
Like many decisions, this requires conversation and compromise. At its December council meeting, Pleasanton relinquished another chance for local control by voting against a compromise solution that would put the Pleasanton Unified School District on an economically viable path to achieve teacher workforce housing with a local solution.
PUSD is facing a very real problem finding teachers and staff to support and educate our children. Like any employer, their challenges are numerous: recruitment and retention, vacillating state funding, fluctuating student enrollment and affordable teacher workforce housing, to name a few. It should come as no surprise that PUSD is looking for viable solutions.
PUSD has been dutifully participating in the city's Housing Element process by asking that two of its properties be evaluated for housing.
In a letter to the city, PUSD affirmed their desire to find solutions to address teacher turnover and acute staffing shortages by "converting unused or underutilized property to build teacher and workforce housing." For success, PUSD requested that its district office site (on Bernal and First) be granted a density range of eight to 20 dwelling units per acre and their Vineyard site (on Vineyard and Thiessen) be granted a density range of three to five dwelling units per acre.
Under recently passed state legislation, AB 2295, which was discussed at the December council meeting, school districts are now allowed to bypass city zoning requirements and build on their own land for teachers and others. The city may only impose basic design standards.
Moreover, school districts operating under the banner of AB 2295 are required to develop projects with a minimum density of 30 dwelling units per acre, with 30% of the units restricted to lower- or moderate-income levels.
After receiving this information, the council voted 3-1 to lower the density range to eight to 12 dwelling units per acre at the district site, well below the district's requested eight to 20 dwelling units per acre, and less than half of the minimum 30 dwelling units per acre available under AB 2295. At this lower density, it won't pencil out for our school district to build urgently needed teacher and workforce housing given current building costs.
If you were our school district, what would you do?
We want local control to be able to design and locate housing that is compatible with our existing neighborhoods and community. We want the ability to address Pleasanton's challenges with innovative solutions in partnership with others. We want to strengthen our partnership with PUSD to support our children and families.
However, having local control comes with the responsibility to use it judiciously in finding solutions to achieve the best outcomes for our community. The school district came to the City Council in good faith and sought a compromised local solution. Some of us chose not to take it.
The council is to discuss this topic at a special meeting on Jan. 26. Voice your opinion by emailing your City Council at [email protected]
Editor's note: Vice Mayor Jack Balch is in his third year serving on the Pleasanton City Council. He was the lone dissenting vote in the 3-1 decision from the Dec. 20 council meeting related to the PUSD property. This opinion piece was submitted before the Planning Commission meeting took place on Wednesday.