Palo Alto signaled its support this week for joining other cities in Santa Clara County in forming a new "subregion" to collectively tackle the regional housing challenge.
Once formed, the subregion would allow local governments to redistribute the housing allocations that each receives annually under the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process. Palo Alto, like many other cities in the county, has consistently fallen short of its RHNA target, a trend that was highlighted in a Santa Clara County Grand Jury report in June.
The creation of "subregions" is one of the grand jury's recommendations for boosting the county's housing stock. Under the system it proposals, cities where land is particularly expensive — including Palo Alto — would be able to transfer some of their obligations to lower-cost communities. The grand jury also recommended that the shift in allocations would be accompanied by financial contributions from high- to low-cost cities, money that would go toward "improving streets, schools, safety, public transportation and other services," according to the report.
"Sub-regions offer promise of encouraging more BMR (below-market-rate) housing," the report states. "A sub-region gives cities more control and flexibility to meet their RHNA housing goals by sharing the burden with adjacent cities."
The concept isn't new. Subregions already exist in three Northern California counties: San Mateo, Napa and Solano. In each case, every city in the county participated in the subregion, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment. And in recent years, with the housing shortage intensifying, local officials throughout Santa Clara County have been considering following suit. Since the grand jury report has come out, the Cities Association of Santa Clara County has been surveying cities to see whether they would like to join such a group.
The resolution that the City Council approved on Monday by a unanimous vote does not specify which cities would be in the subregion and does not lay out the rules for how the shift in allocations would be negotiated. Rather, by expressing the city's support, the council endorsed a process in which the Cities Association would create the allocation process for each participating city for the next RHNA cycle in 2020.
The resolution also authorizes incoming City Manager Ed Shikada to work with the Cities Association to form the subregion, which includes developing a work plan, a budget and a schedule of actions "leading to the countywide, self-administration of the housing needs allocation process."
The council approved the resolution on Monday night on its consent calendar, without any dissent or debate. At a prior hearing in September, the council pushed back against some of the grand jury's recommendations but generally agreed that a subregion is an idea worth exploring further.
Councilman Tom DuBois and Councilman Greg Scharff both voiced their support for creating a subregion, which Scharff said would give cities a forum to both talk about allocations and to share best practices for creating housing.
"I think it's really important for the region to be able to speak with one voice when they wish to," Scharff said. "I think it also provides a great opportunity for discussions between cities."
• Watch the July 13 episode of the "Behind the Headlines" webcast for our discussion on the grand jury report with Henry Groth, a member of the 2017-18 Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury.