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Feeling the squeeze
Original post made
on Jun 10, 2008
The acronym ABAG has become a four-letter word in Palo Alto, criticized by officials and excoriated by neighborhood leaders.
Read the full story here Web Link
posted Wednesday, June 11, 2008, 12:00 AM
Posted by Karen White
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 12, 2008 at 11:25 am
Readers might review the Weekly story, "ABAG Assignments Unlikely to Change" at Web Link and all the Town Square posts that follow. Be sure to sit down before reading this. You can compute the daunting financial subsidy the City would need to provide per housing unit and in totality, for 2,860 units, as only one among numerous overwhelming impacts on our community. In this post I won't even address the contorted logic whereby Palo Alto's "allocation" was driven in part by the "projected growth in the number of households."
Remember: Where BMR housing is created through inclusionary zoning, as is typical in Palo Alto, the BMR yield is only 15-20%. Thus if ABAG dictates that Palo Alto must zone for 2,000 affordable units, the total number of units that would be built is actually 10,000, and this is at the higher 20% yield! On top of this, multiply the total number of housing units by 2.7 residents, and you'll recognize the overwhelming impact on our services and infrastructure of the growth rate being advocated by the state and ABAG.
In a Guest Opinion I wrote last year, "ABAG vs. Palo Alto's Housing-Infrastructure Imbalance," at Web Link, I described how Palo Alto's infrastructure and facilities are inadequate to serve our population even now. Further, the cost of infrastructure maintenance and improvement is spiraling due to global pressures. Examples: The first storm drain project was far more costly than anticipated. The City is scraping for every loose cent to fund a new public safety building -- whose cost is substantially higher than estimated at the time the Blue Ribbon Task Force (I served as a member) made its recommendation. At the same time, our libraries are bursting at the seams and long overdue for improvement. We are told that taxes should be increased to pay for this - testifying to our challenge even now now to pay for our most basic civic facilities.
Also please review "Palo Alto Protests Unachievable Housing Goals" at Web Link). From the story:
"A housing goal assigned to Palo Alto is "unachievable" and would burden the school district and city services, according to a lengthy letter opposing the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) housing allotment for Palo Alto. (Read the letter at Web Link).
What's behind state policies driving unsupportable rates of growth? This excerpt from the Guest Opinion discusses the building industry's influence:
"Stepping back, let's look at some of the influences on policy in Sacramento. The California Building Industry Association (CBIA) -- the "official voice" of 6,500 member companies -- outlines its mission on its Web site: www.cbia.org/index.cfm?pageid=425.
It lists a "top ten" set of reasons to join, one of which is to improve a firm's bottom line. But the number-one reason to join is: "Advocacy. Our lobbyists work year-round in Washington, D.C., Sacramento, and your community to promote the homebuilding industry and protect your livelihood."
One of CBIA's current efforts is to "streamline" environmental review of development proposals that "conform to regional blueprints". From the CBIA website: "The single-biggest obstacle to more urban-centric, infill housing development is the abuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and if "smart growth" is ever to happen in California, the law must change. In 2008, California homebuilders will pursue legislation to allow for a "streamlined" (whatever that means) environmental review when projects conform to regional blueprints."
Another influential organization, Home Builders of America, Northern California (HBANC) has a political action committee. The committee's purposes, according to HBANC's Web site (www.hbanc.org are to "identify local and state elected officials and candidates for office of the State of California who have supported the political and economic interests of the California building industry, or who are or may be in a position to support those interests, and to make financial contributions to their campaign funds, and to participate, where consistent, with the objectives of HBANC, in local, regional, or statewide ballot measures and issues campaigns."
State policies appear to reflect building-industry objectives while ignoring costly infrastructure backlogs that exist right now. The Division of Housing Policy Development, part of the State Department of Housing and Community Development (www.hcd.ca.gov describes its own work as follows:
"HPD also administers state housing element law, including the review of local general plan housing elements; prepares numerous state plans and reports and conducts research to facilitate housing development and improvement, including an annual report on redevelopment agencies housing activities; and provides a wide range of technical assistance to local governments, public and private housing providers, business and industry groups, housing advocates and interested citizens." .)
The top "Strategic Objective" of the state Department of Housing and Community Development is to "Increase housing supply by strengthening the effectiveness of housing law as a tool to reduce local regulatory barriers." Performance measures include introduction, approval and passage of legislation; the number of stakeholder groups who support the legislation; and higher issuance of building permits in compliance with housing element law." (www.hcd.ca.gov)." Bottom line: Through ABAG, the state means to strip local governments of the ability to guide their own futures.
Packaging building industry interests as somehow beneficial for communities is specious. Our city is right to challenge ABAG's current "allocation" and the all the state policies that drive it. Moderately increased densities do make sense in some parts of our city -- to the extent we can afford the impacts. But because "some" is good does not necessarily mean that "more" is better, and we -- not the state -- should be the decision-makers in this.