Woodside has joined the ranks of other Bay Area cities and towns whose housing elements were initially rejected by the state, receiving feedback to make changes and resubmit for approval later this year. It is one of six San Mateo County jurisdictions to have received response letters rejecting its original designs.
In an 18-page letter sent to the city on Friday, Oct. 14, the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) points to areas where Woodside needs to be more specific about its housing plans, including about 80 proposed housing units at Cañada College.
“The design element addresses many legal requirements; however, revisions will be required to comply with state law,” the letter reads. The letter asks for more details and analysis about the overall plan.
Cities and towns that fail to implement a compliant housing element could face legal ramifications and large fines, state officials said.
In addition to Woodside, the cities of Foster City, San Mateo, San Bruno, Redwood City, and Colma also received feedback on their designs. Redwood City was the first local city to receive feedback on its plan from the state in July, after submitting its draft in April.
Woodside’s plan includes 401 new housing units, adding a buffer beyond the 328 units the city must plan under the 2023-31 regional housing needs allocation. It’s a big jump from the previous requirement of planning 62 units during the last eight-year cycle.
The draft was submitted to the state on July 16 and HCD had 90 days to provide feedback. A compliant design of the housing element must be approved by the city by 01/31/2023.
To meet the January deadline, the city would need to submit a compliant draft by the end of November, giving HCD 60 days to review the next draft. The city must revise the design in light of major changes in its planning department over the next two weeks. Planning director Jackie Young is retiring on October 31, and the city council plans to hire a consultant at its Tuesday, October 25 meeting to make revisions to the draft.
Mountain View received a 12-page letter from the state in late September with feedback on its element and more pointed criticism of its plans.
Response of the city and housing representatives to the letter
Mayor Pro Tem Chris Shaw said in an email that based on the feedback, “there is a lot to edit in the HCD comments letter, from granular details to fairly broad comments.”
“Putting together the answer will take an enormous amount of time and effort,” he said. “However, I am confident that the staff and the City Council will provide an appropriate response to HCD.”
Mayor Dick Brown noted that the letter asked for a lot of detail, rather than simply saying “we don’t like this.” He admits that the changes will take a lot of work.
Bryant said the city expects a lengthy letter asking about many different things based on what other cities before Woodside have seen in the process.
“They really address specific comments; That doesn’t surprise me,” he said.
Jeremy Levine, a policy manager for the Housing Leadership Council advocacy group, said in the first review HCD gives Woodside and the jurisdictions an opportunity to justify their plans. He expects HCD to provide more specific feedback as the city provides more analysis.
“The parts that they (Woodside) were trying to meet fell far short of the state’s requirements,” he said. “HCD cannot criticize an analysis that the city has not carried out. … This is a letter that basically says that Woodside is starting from almost nothing in housing construction. … This is an issue that many jurisdictions in San Mateo County are looking at.”
“If Woodside acted with strong political will to create a realistic plan, took real steps to convert city properties into multi-family housing, and was serious about meeting its housing needs, there’s a good chance they could create a good plan could and submit it by January 31,” he said. “If it continues to have a status quo policy and the city treats it (the housing element) like an opt-in game, Woodside is going to have some problems. It’s a problem of their own making.”
He notes that political advocates like himself have written letters to the city with specific feedback on how to improve the plan, but the city hasn’t acted on many of those recommendations.
The plan draws heavily on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), with plans for residents to build 180 units by 2031.
According to HCD, the element needs to include more analysis as well as policies and programs that incentivize the production of ADUs at the affordability levels assumed in the element.
Depending on the analysis, the element must commit to monitoring ADU production and affordability throughout the planning period and take additional action if the city doesn’t meet its target numbers within a specified timeframe, such as six months, HCD wrote.
Higher density zoning required
To be considered feasible for low-income housing, Woodside must have at least 20 units per acre, the state said.
Woodside’s design for the housing element allocates units for lower incomes in sites that are repurposed at a density of up to 10 housing units per acre, meaning the element does not currently support these assumptions.
If rezoning is not completed by January 31, 2023, the element must also include a program to make zoning and development standards available during the planning period.
Canada College website
The state says the city needs to determine if there is an existing planning application for the new apartments at Cañada College. San Mateo Community College District officials have publicly stated that no project is in the pipeline as funds to build the units have not yet been raised.
If there is a pending project, the item must describe proposed affordability based on proposed sales prices or rents or other mechanisms to ensure affordability such as: If no application is currently pending, the element must analyze the feasibility for new residential development and the site’s availability during the planning period, including assumptions about the affordability of the large site (over 10 acres) and redevelopment potential, state officials said.
Given that Woodside has included the CaÒada site in its latest residential cycle, the element must include actions committed to facilitating the development and monitoring of permits, such as websites, if applications are not approved, the letter said .
HCD officials say the housing element must indicate whether the development is student-only, open to faculty, or available to anyone interested.
Bryant said it was clear the city needed to work with CaÒada to better define the college’s housing plan. He said he would like the city to find a partnership (grant or partnership with an affordable housing nonprofit) that can provide them with the housing they need for staff.
Of adding housing to the school, Brown said, “We need it and CaÒada College needs it.”
SB 9 pages
The element identifies Senate Bill 9 lot splits as a strategy to accommodate a portion of RHNA with middle and excess income. The state wants the city to provide analysis, which must include experiences, trends, and market conditions that allow for partitioning.
To meet this requirement, the city could survey property owners to gather interest in development during the planning period. It should also be checked whether the existing use does not constitute an obstacle to further residential development. For example, the analysis should describe whether use continues or ceases; how the plots were selected; consideration of land use controls such as development standards; potential for subdivision, if applicable; age and condition of construction.
More details on housing needs, resources, and limitations are required
The element must include the city’s ability to investigate and resolve housing grievances or participate in fair housing testing, according to the letter. The element states that outreach consisted of city council meetings, webinars and commission meetings, but does not describe efforts to reach sheltered classes through existing fair housing laws and regulations, HCD wrote.
Woodside’s element contains some data on integration and segregation at regional and local levels; however, it must involve an analysis of patterns over time. The element must also analyze segregation and integration both locally (comparing areas within the city) and regionally (comparing the city to the region), HCD wrote.
The element must include factors that contribute to the severity of fair housing issues in the city, such as private investment in areas of opportunity or affordable housing, the letter said.
The state also requires the city to describe and quantify the results of the previous element’s programs and evaluate their effectiveness.
A draft of the housing element can be viewed here. Read HCD’s letter here.