City updates Housing Element guiding principles


The city has updated its Housing Element Guiding Principles for 2021-2029 following long, emotional discussion and a 3-2 vote, with councilmembers Albert Vera and Goran Eriksson voting against, and councilmember Yasmine Imani-McMorrin voting for alongside vice mayor Daniel Lee and mayor Alex Fisch.

This update comes as the city’s way of complying with new state guidelines, which was clarified to the public before comment began. The city is required to update its housing element by Oct. 15 to qualify for certain grants and bonds laid out in AB 725, and the ordinance would not involve rezoning that night.

There are 10 principles included in the ordinance, the first being “The estimate of a site’s ‘realistic capacity’ (number of new residential units in the planning period) shall be adjusted to reflect the site’s “likelihood of development” during the planning period. The estimate shall also account for other required capacity factors per California Government Code Section (CGC §) 65583.2(c)(2).”

The second has to do with acccountability, stating “The Housing Element should report the proportion of parcels in the previous Housing Element’s site inventory that were developed during the previous planning period. If this information cannot be obtained, its lack of availability should be acknowledged.”

The third principle was concerning to many people, stating “Sites which are designated as suitable for accommodating lower income housing shall be zoned to allow at least 30 dwelling units per acre, per the ‘Mullin density” safe harbor.’ 

Mullin density guidelines clarify the land inventory requirements for a city, as well as what qualifies as land suitable for residential development. 

The types of lands the bill specifies are:

  • Vacant residentially zoned sites
  • Vacant non-residentially zoned sites that allow residential uses
  • Underutilized residentially zoned sites which are capable of being developed at a higher density or with greater intensity
  • Non-residential zoned sites that can be redeveloped for, and/or rezoned for, residential use (via program actions)

The 30 dwelling units per acre clause was arguably the most contentious, with many fearing that there would either be too much development impeding on their homes, or that developers would be scared away by this ordinance.

The fourth principle states “The ratio of ‘realistic capacity for new Mullin-density housing’ to ‘total number of extant housing units’ should be at least as large in high-opportunity neighborhoods as it is in low-opportunity neighborhoods.” 

Principle five reads “The Housing Element should provide a sufficient capacity buffer (after any initial rezoning required by the housing element) to comply with the state’s No Net Loss law (CGC § 65863) throughout the planning period, without further rezoning to ensure sufficient capacity exists to accommodate the Regional Housing Needs Assessment throughout the planning period.” 

The No Net Loss law states that a jurisdiction must maintain adequate sites to accommodate its RHNA requirement by each income category at all times throughout the entire planning period. 

Additionally, a jurisdiction may not take any action to reduce a parcel’s residential density unless it makes findings that the remaining sites identified in its Housing Element sites inventory can accommodate the jurisdiction’s remaining unmet RHNA by each income category, or if it identifies additional sites so that there is no net loss of residential unit capacity.

Should these first five principles not serve to meet the state requirements, principle six would trigger a minimum additional density that will be allowed on each site.

Principles seven, eight and nine all deal with the analysis and progress of the previous housing element principles.

Principle seven dictates that “feasible, quantified objectives” be set regarding development at each income level and dictates that mid-cycle adjustments be made if the city has not permitted at least 50% of the objective.

Principle eight regards California Government Code Section 65583, which deals with “an identification and analysis of existing and projected housing needs and a statement of goals, policies, quantified objectives, financial resources, and scheduled programs for the preservation, improvement, and development of housing.” 

The principle states that the analysis shall also include an assessment of the City’s compliance with development-permitting requirements under state law.

Principle nine furthers this idea, stating that the analysis should be “grounded in quantitative data” to the extent that it is feasible.

Finally, principle 10 regards gauging public opinion, saying that “public opinion should be gathered through, among other things, a survey about housing priorities.” This survey would also elicit basic demographic information, including age, place of residence, status of residency (own or rent), and race/ethnicity.

City updates Housing Element guiding principles