This story was originally printed on Nov. 21 in the Post. If you want to get the scoop on local news, pick up the Post in the mornings at 1,000 Mid-Peninsula locations.
BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto City Council may be forced to approve undesirable developments if the city doesn’t get its eight-year housing plan approved by the state before Feb. 1, City Manager Ed Shikada said.
That’s because there’s a provision in state law called the “builder’s remedy,” which says that cities that don’t have a housing plan aren’t allowed to deny housing projects, as long as 20% of the units are set aside for low-income households.
That means the city’s restrictions on height and density couldn’t be enforced on these partially affordable developments.
“The builder’s remedy may require a city to approve a housing development that varies significantly from local code requirements,” Shikada said in a memo to council.
Several developers have filed applications using the builder’s remedy in Sacramento and Southern California, where cities have an earlier deadline to turn in their housing plans, Shikada said.
Palo Alto’s deadline is Feb. 1. The city is planning to submit its first draft for review by end of the year, but the state has 90 days to provide comments.
Council will discuss the housing plan again on Nov. 28.
The housing plan required by the state is called the Housing Element. It’s a document that lists properties where housing can reasonably get built over the next eight years, as well as programs for making it easier to build.
Each city is given a number of housing units for which it has found locations, and Palo Alto’s allocation for the next eight years is 6,086 units. A lot of the new housing must be for low-income residents too.
Law becomes tougher
The Housing Element in the past has largely been a planning exercise with no real teeth. But for the 2023-2031 planning cycle, penalties for non-compliance include fines, loss of local control and the builder’s remedy.
At the same time, Palo Alto’s allocation is three times higher than it was in the last planning cycle.
The city has permitted 1,062 homes since 2015, planner Tim Wong told the Planning and Transportation Commission on Wednesday.
The city has had no trouble building housing for people with an above moderate income, permitting 750 of these units, including 114 this year.
But the city has permitted only 283 units for low and very low income residents since 2015, and none this year.