The Danville Town Council voted unanimously last week to endorse the town's next eight-year Housing Element cycle -- despite concerns and frustrations over requirements under new state affordable housing laws -- ahead of a Jan. 31 deadline that would have necessitated hefty fines if no update was approved by then.
The Housing Element update was adopted as an amendment to the town's General Plan in a unanimous vote at its Jan. 17 meeting, following extensive discussions and community outreach efforts aimed at contending with the town's high Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) number for Danville, and the resulting requirements for additional affordable housing in the affluent and historic town.
"Nobody wants to be here," Danville Mayor Robert Storer said during the Jan. 17 meeting. "We're here because the state has forced us to be here, and that's the truth. So what we did two years ago ... was thought 'we need to educate the community, because this is a tough pill to swallow. And if we don't educate our community, we're going to have a room of 300 to 500 people screaming at us. So we thought, 'Look, let's put all our cards on the table.'"
Under the Association of Bay Area Government (ABAG) methodology, Danville was assigned an RHNA of 2,241 units, which town officials made an unsuccessful effort to appeal in 2021. While officials and staff went on to seek to comply with the number in the recently approved Housing Element update, councilmembers were vocal about their concerns with the process in Danville ahead of their vote to approve the measure.
"We put out appeals, we tried our best to show that this number of 2,241 RHNA numbers was flawed, and at several levels," Councilmember Renee Morgan said. "As many of you brought up this evening, there are a lot of levels at which this is not correct for Danville and does not fit the fabric of our community. But we've done our job, our staff has done what they had to do to accommodate what we're able to do."
Without approving a Housing Element update by the Jan. 31 deadline, Danville could be subject to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, placing additional pressure on town officials to accommodate the additional housing required by the state.
"There are a wide range of penalties anywhere from fines of up to $600,000 per month. I think what we are most worried about are lawsuits, consequences of which are court-imposed decisions, a freezing of permitting processes and of course a court-appointed individual who can approve our developments on our behalf," city clerk Marie Sunseri said.
Despite their concerns, councilmembers voiced their appreciation for the community input that they said had helped guide the Housing Element update, and emphasized that while they were required to identify sites within the town limits that would be suitable for housing intended to be available to lower incomes, it will be up to property owners and developers to decide whether to move forward with new housing projects.
Given the differences between Danville and other Bay Area jurisdictions, which see a high supply of jobs with a discrepancy in available housing, Councilmember Newell Arnerich said he didn't expect to see a great deal of development following the approval of the Housing Element update.
"This isn't going to be built, not just because of the land cost, which is extraordinarily high here -- it's not going to be built because we don't have a need to have it built," Arnerich said.
Vice Mayor Karen Stepper joined her colleagues in voicing frustration with the state involvement in overseeing and seeking to control local housing developments in Danville.
"We do have an amazing town with character, a small-town atmosphere, and that's not who is writing the rules for Danville right now," Stepper said. "But it's being planned by people you've elected who have urban backgrounds primarily, and not every town wants to have an urban background. Your families are different. Your own kids live in different cities because they all have different needs."
Stepper added that she thought the state's intended focus on accommodating a diverse range of incomes with the RHNA assignments should also consider the cultural differences in local jurisdictions like Danville, and the cultural and architectural components that attract people to them.
"When we talk about building for diversity, we should also talk about diversity of housing, not just the economy, which we do need to meet those rules, but these other things that make us want to live in a community, where people care," Stepper said. "So I think we ... don't want to encourage or discourage ... the owners' plans, but we do want it to meet the standards that make you want to live here and stay here and to help your kids and families stay here."
On a motion by Storer, councilmembers voted unanimously to pass the resolution approving the Housing Element update for the current eight-year cycle, which runs through 2031. The update, which is set to be finalized as part of the council's consent agenda at their next meeting, remains subject to review by the state department of Housing and Community Development.