Allocation of up to 3904 Housing Units in the 2040 General Plan is the Wrong Decision

 

Executive Summary:

 

The Town is in the process of updating its general plan for the next 20 years.  Part of this process is the requirement to identify space for future development of residential units to meet the State’s requirement for the 6th cycle Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).

Should the Town  plan to develop 1,993 units plus a small buffer as required by the 6th cycle RHNA or 3,904 units as suggested by the Town Manager?

Given the Town is largely developed, future growth can only occur as built-out lots are redeveloped. ABAG projects by 2040 growth of 619 additional housing units that could be occupied by new residents. For the past 10 years the population of Los Gatos has remained essentially flat and over the last five years only 135 new units were developed.

To enable the development of 3,904 new units over the next 20 years, the Town plans to increase all existing residential land use densities 2x to 3x (excluding the Hillside) and lot coverage ratios across the town. Once the Town adopts increased land use densities (i.e. up-zones), State law prohibits the Town from ever decreasing densities.

Since the 2040 General Plan can be amended at any time, a more prudent approach would be to plan for the 6th cycle RHNA allocation plus a small buffer and amend the General Plan in 8 to 10 years when more data such as the 7th cycle RHNA becomes known. That way only incremental changes in land use densities and lot coverage ratios are made based on known requirements as opposed to “guessing” what might be required at a future date.

The LGCA is more concerned about planning for the development of affordable housing by zoning adequate sites at suitable densities over the next 8 years as opposed to up-zoning all residential land uses which would enable developers to build more $2m condos/houses in a town that is largely developed over the next 20 years.

And, since the State requires that the Housing element of the General Plan to be updated every 8 years, the Town will be required to revisit the number of housing units to add, going through the same process we are today.  So, what is gained by planning for an excessive number of new units?  What is the “cost” of doing this?

LGCA sees no benefit in planning for the development 3,904 units which is unsupported by any population forecast and would materially impact the character of the Town. One of the fundamental purposes of the 2040 General Plan is to direct future development in such a way that preserves the character of the Town while minimizing the pressure to develop. An incremental approach, based on only the 6th cycle RHNA requirement for new housing delivers on this goal.

LGCA Response:

The Town is legally required to adopt a 2040 General Plan that includes an internally consistent Housing Element which designates and maintains an adequate supply of land for the development of housing.  It also must be sufficient to meet the Town’s 6th cycle RHNA allocation for all income levels. The 6th cycle RHNA allocation is 1,993 units as proposed by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

It is possible to approach long-range planning in the manner proposed by the Town, which is to double using the 6th cycle RHNA allocation.  But we believe the far superior method is to plan on an incremental approach that includes only the current RHNA allocation. Later, the General Plan can be amended at any time as more information becomes known, such as the actual 7th cycle RHNA allocation.

To put the 3,904 units in perspective, ABAG and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission have forecasted that over the next 20 years the Town needs to add only 619 units based on ABAG’s 2040 population forecast of 33,050.  Using the 2040 General Plan’s planned housing number of 3,904 and the current 2.4 people per housing unit, the Town’s population could increase by nearly 9,300 people to more than 42,000 residents.  This is 27% higher than the ABAG’s forecast!   It is the State’s view that more of the regional housing needs should be allocated to the town because the Town is a “high opportunity area”.  Therefore the State established the RHNA allocation from 619 to 1993. There are no population forecasts that provide underlying support for the development of 3904 housing units.

It is also important to understand that the 3,904 new units is a “manufactured” number. It is based on an assumed redevelopment rate of lots (ranging from 5% to 20%) for all residential land uses designations Town-wide (excluding the Hillside.)  Because an unreasonable number of new units are being planned, the development of 3,904 units can only be accomplished by radically increasing building densities for all residential land uses Town-wide. In the Town’s proposed plan, residential land uses have been “up-zoned” to allow increases in housing densities that are two to three times the current allowable land use densities.

The “cost” of adopting an aggressive growth plan is the up-zoning of 100% of the residential land use densities. That is a massive change from the current 2020 General Plan and the implications of this change cannot be fully projected. Once the Town up-zones, California law will not permit it to down-zone. It is a one-way ratchet. So, there are massive ramifications to this action.

If the actual redevelopment rates turn out to be higher than the currently assumed rates, the number of new units developed could be two to three times, or even more, than the 3,904 units. There is no objective evidence to support 3,904 units over the next 20 years to be correct as opposed to 6,000 or even 9,000. The number is simply the result of a redevelopment assumption without any objective evidence to support it.

And who is to say that the 7th cycle will be anything close to 6th cycle since it hasn’t been developed? Interestingly the Town’s 5th cycle was 619 and at that time the 2020 General Plan was adopted, the Town only planned for 621 new units, 2 units above the RHNA allocation. Factor in that the populations of California and Los Gatos recently declined, SB9 and SB 10 were just signed into law, VTA is financially challenged for the next 28 years; cars are switching from gas to electric; Los Gatos has increased fire risks greater than Paradise and the State is facing extraordinary water shortages. It will be very hard to predict the 7th cycle RHNA allocation, so why “assume” it will be the same as the 6th cycle?

Given this, why would the Town adopt such an aggressive growth strategy in housing that is clearly unsupported by ANY data? There is no objective evidence that supports planning for 3,906 units over the next 20 years.

A more prudent approach, which LGCA is promoting, is to plan only for the “knowns” and amend the General Plan when new information becomes “known”. The 2040 General Plan specifically sets forth a policy to “implement and maintain the 2040 General Plan to reflect the changing needs of the community and remain consistent with State law”. This policy supports our proposed incremental approach to make only the required changes now and then review and update the General Plan every 8 to 10 years. It’s an approach based on data rather than an assumption as to future growth. No other City in the State that LGCA can find has adopted the Town’s approach. What is so wrong with planning for 1,993 units plus a slight buffer and then amend the General Plan in eight years when the 7th cycle RHNA allocation is known?

If this incremental approach is used, the Town would not be forced to up-zone 100% of the Town’s land uses. A more focused approach to land redevelopment would be sufficient to deliver the affordable housing mandated by RHNA allocation. By concentrating on only those areas that can be appropriately developed at higher densities, affordable housing can be developed as opposed to $2m condos such as the ones recently developed in the North 40.

This gets to the final point, which is, who should decide between the two planning approaches? Is it 3 people on the Council or should it be the citizens of Los Gatos by a vote?

Given the massive impact of up-zoning to all residential land uses (excluding the Hillside) and the shift in the Council’s message from “we like the 2020 General Plan” and we only need to “fine tune it” to a massive and radical overhaul in the Land Use Element of 2040 GP, we believe the residents should decide.

It is our elected official’s responsibility to make the compelling case to all residents to adopt their planning strategy and then let the voters decide. It should not be decided by 3 people on the Council. Based on what we now know, the current planning approach is not widely supported.

Hopefully this explains why the LGCA believes an incremental approach to planning for growth for the next 20 years is the appropriate strategy for the Town.

Contact Sandra and join our protest of this completely unreasonable increase of our housing over the next 20 years.

LOS GATOS COMMUNITY ALLIANCE

www.lgca.town