Menlo Park -- and other California cities and towns -- will now be able to count housing within mixed-use projects toward its state-mandated affordable housing requirements, thanks to Assembly Bill 1690, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed on Tuesday, Sept. 30.
The bill, with encouragement from Menlo Park Councilman Peter Ohtaki and city staff, was sponsored by Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, to allow units to be counted as very low- and low-income housing if the project site's zoning allows 100 percent residential and requires that at least 50 percent of the development be used for housing.
"I'd like to express concern and frustration that the current Housing Element process is based on and driven by unfunded and rigidly-defined State mandates, rather than a community-driven process and, as a result, does not consider factors that are critical in local communities," then-Mayor Ohtaki wrote in a letter to Mr. Gordon in 2013.
That frustration peaked when Menlo Park had to scramble to update its housing element to settle a lawsuit brought by three advocacy groups in 2012 after the city failed to complete the updates as required by state law. The settlement required the city to identify potential sites for affordable housing, create zoning that provides incentives for building affordable housing production at those sites, and set aside a portion of local below-market-rate funds for nonprofit development of affordable housing.
The Assembly bill is meant to expand the options available for meeting the state's mandate. "(AB 1690) modifies the housing element law to increase flexibility for cities," said Mr. Ohtaki.
The changes are expected to encourage the development of mixed-use projects in areas of the city, such as Belle Haven, that lack a variety of retail services. Menlo Park wanted to see a grocery store included in a proposed Hamilton Avenue housing development, according to Mr. Ohtaki, but then under current state law the housing would have not counted toward the city's state-assigned allotment.
"Housing low-income individuals on mixed-use sites places them near the jobs and critical services they need, giving our most vulnerable populations access to needed resources," Assemblyman Gordon told the Almanac. He said the legislation's bipartisan support reflects the planning flexibility communities need throughout California.