Pleasanton Poised For Residential Growth

By Martin Inderbitzen

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Eastern Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the few bright spots in the current economy. Housing prices and rents are holding steady, new residential development is taking place and even new retail development is occurring.

The city of Pleasanton, at the intersection of Interstates 580 and 680, has consistently been one of the most desirable cities in the Bay Area in which to live and work.

Pleasanton is home to a regional mall, the Hacienda Business Park (854 acres of mixed-use development) and one of the state’s top school districts. Parks are plentiful, downtown is quaint, and BART is on its doorstep for easy access to anywhere in the Bay Area. Yet Pleasanton has remained a small city of fewer than 80,000 people.

This has been, at least in part, because of a residential growth management program capping residential building permits to no more than 350 per year and an overall voter-approved housing cap of 29,000 residences.

At least, that is the way it used to be until Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch voided the cap as a result of a suit brought by housing advocates. He also imposed a court-ordered moratorium on virtually all building permits in Pleasanton until the city took corrective action.

The cap was voided because it prevented Pleasanton from complying with its obligation to provide its share of housing as required by the State of California. Under that requirement, every city in California must have a Housing Element in its General Plan that addresses its response to the statewide housing goal of providing housing for every California family. Each city is periodically provided with an obligation to address its fair share of the state housing need called the city’s “Regional Housing Needs Analysis” (RHNA).

To avoid a complete shutdown in Pleasanton, the city entered into a settlement agreement with the housing advocates that brought the suit. The city agreed to revise its Housing Element; amend its General Plan; and rezone enough land to accommodate the city’s unmet housing need for the planning period 2007-2014, or 1,992 new residential units. Under the settlement, the city had until January 2012 to identify and complete rezoning for enough land to accommodate that number of new residential units.

Throughout 2011 the city engaged in a collaborative process with landowners and residents to identify candidate sites for rezoning to accommodate these new units. In January 2012 the City Council rezoned nine sites for residential development. All the sites were rezoned high-density, averaging 30 units to the acre, which will allow construction of “for sale” and rental housing. The rezonings are to be “by right” which is to say unconditional, but for the city’s ability to control design review.

With these rezonings in place, along with the adoption of a new climate action plan, an amended growth management plan and all environmental work under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) completed, landowners and developers will be poised to work with Pleasanton for a wave of new residential development over the next few years.

Pleasanton has made significant progress over the past year and a half toward meeting its obligation. But some heavy lifting remains to be done to implement the rezoning before property owners and developers will be able to commence construction.

Chief among the implementation items listed by the city upon the adoption of the rezoning were:

  • Updating its Growth Management Ordinance, which currently places an annual limit on the number of residences granted building permits each year
  • Updating its Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, which regulates the minimum number of affordable housing units to be included within each new development
  • Adopting a set of Design Guidelines and Building Standards for the rezoned sites.

Pleasanton has already started to plan for the next RHNA cycle, which begins in 2014. By mid-2012 the city will have initiated a Specific Plan process for approximately 1,000 acres of former industrial and quarry lands at the city’s eastern border.

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Martin Inderbitzen, an attorney with Patton & Sullivan LLC, specializes in real estate transactions, land use entitlement and zoning work.

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