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A Wake-Up Call For Cities And Counties To Meet Regional Housing Needs

3/24/2010 Articles

In a widely anticipated decision, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ordered the City of Pleasanton to eliminate its voter-mandated housing limit in order to satisfy the state requirement that all cities and counties zone land sufficient to enable construction of its share of housing affordable to a variety of household incomes.  (Urban Habitat Program and State of California v. City of Pleasanton, Case No. RG06-293831, March 12, 2010).  The Urban Habitat Program, an Oakland-based non-profit formed to advance environmental, economic, and social justice in the Bay Area, joined by Attorney General Jerry Brown, sued Pleasanton for its failure to satisfy its Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). 

The RHNA is a method of ensuring that each local government uses its land use regulations to facilitate construction of its fair share of regional housing  needs, including housing affordable to a wide variety of households.  In the Bay Area, the determination of each jurisdiction's RHNA is made by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).  Typically, a jurisdiction adopts its ABAG-RHNA requirement as part of the Housing Element of its General Plan, and implements that requirement through its zoning regulations. 

In Pleasanton, however, the voters had imposed a permanent cap of 29,000 units, 27,000 of which already exist, leaving an inventory of only 2,000 new units.  The result of that cap, according to the judge, was that Pleasanton would never be unable to comply with its RHNA because the cap limits the number of units that can be built to a number significantly below Pleasanton's RHNA.  In other words, the RHNA will always exceed the cap.

Pleasanton is not the only local jurisdiction in California that has a cap on the total number of units or other stringent growth control measures aimed at new residential construction.  Until now, these restrictions have gone unnoticed.  However, this case puts those California cities and counties on notice that the Office of the Attorney General is willing to use its considerable legal muscle to invalidate those restrictions and compel these jurisdictions to make way for housing affordable to a wide variety of households. 

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