We continue to believe that this housing element draft is a continuation of the existing policies that have resulted in a shortage of housing.
We maintain that the general points of our earlier Site Capacity Addendum still apply to this revised draft.
**Already-completed projects: **950 West El Camino Real had its public grand opening ceremony on May 6, 2022. In a Planning Commission meeting on Nov 14, staff stated that the project was opening and occupied under a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy for months. We are concerned that there could be other projects counted in under the 6th despite having long TCOs pre-June 2022.
Known infeasible projects: A staff report for the Rental Housing Committee on October 17 notes that 1919 Gamel Way has been put on hold due to economic reasons. 400 Logue Avenue has also had a change in ownership, after the previous owner who put in the application for the 408 units said financing difficulties with the proposed project led to a change in plans. Economic conditions are likely squeezing other projects in the pipeline list, given various requests for permit extensions.
Projects that exceed established zoning: Several identified pipeline projects needed spot rezonings to move forward. 555 W Middlefield underwent the (unavailable since 2019) Gatekeeper process, taking 5 years from first council meeting to authorize consideration of the rezoning to final project approval. 777 W Middlefield spent 4 years in the Gatekeeper process, with intervention from a school district to replace their teacher housing proposal that had community opposition. The history of these projects demonstrates the inadequacy of existing zoning to meet our goals.
Discount and Development Likelihood
Evidence lacking for shopping centers: The only major rezoning occurring is the harmonization of zoning with the general plan for some shopping centers. Of this, the site inventory discounts expected the unit count by 80% on parcels with multiple retail tenants. However, this 80% number does not seem grounded in any evidence or feasibility analysis, given that one of the shopping centers in the zoning designated “Grant-Phyllis Precise Plan” has been nonresidential since the 1960s. That we are rezoning a decade after the General Plan update may imply a lack of interest among the site owners to build housing at the city’s targeted densities. Although the shopping centers contribute only a few units to the city’s total, they are key to the city’s AFFH plan for the southern neighborhoods.
Evidence lacking for other sites: Staff has not demonstrated the substantial evidence required on a per-site basis to demonstrate that our mostly non-vacant site inventory is likely to become housing at the amount necessary to reach our allocation. There are no details of engagement with site owners, other than the initial mailed notice of site inventory inclusion (which got little response). Instead, sites continue to be removed at this stage of element drafting due to objection by site owners. Of the single new site where staff says the owner has demonstrated interest (1500 N Shoreline), there are no public details of how strong of a commitment they have made to building housing and (if so) at what amount and income level.
Sites excluded to maintain discretion: Meanwhile, the draft Element continues to leave out sites where the owners have expressed great interest in developing housing, 901 North Rengstorff (“Ambra project”) and Castro Commons. Responding to the council in June, staff justified the decision by wanting to maintain “some flexibility” over the projects, further indicating reluctance on the City’s part. Staff has gone as far as preventing council from discussing one of these projects, as noted by the League of Women Voters.
Housing Needs Assessment and Constraints Analysis
Inhabited vehicles: The Housing Needs Assessment is silent on the current situation of RVs mentioned in Table 21. The settlement between the RVs and the City has greatly reduced the number of locations where RVs can park, and this is compounded by the city police requiring RVs to move every 72 hours due to neighbor-triggered complaints.
BMR in-lieu restrictions: The Constraints Analysis notes that the BMR program provides an alternative if developments do not wish to provide inclusionary units within their projects. It should be noted that alternatives, including in-lieu fees, must undergo discretionary review by the council, which generally means only large projects like Google’s undertake this path. Meanwhile, we have had a project that chose to use their density bonus incentives against the entirety of the BMR framework.
On Efficiency Studios/SROs, while the El Camino Real (2014) and San Antonio Precise Plans (2019) have their densities tied to FAR rather than du/ac, there has yet to be any such project proposed anywhere in the city.
Scope too narrow: The Constraints Analysis continues to not fully examine all of the land use regulations the city imposes. For example, a recent project applied a density bonus incentive against the storage space requirement.
Program 1.1 aims to “address consistency” with state law (i.e., rectify existing violations).. But the listed laws specified took into effect years ago: Navigation Centers in mid-2019, Employee Housing in 1992, Mobile-Home Parks in 1981. It is concerning that it would take an additional two years for the City to reach consistency, given laws like AB 2011 and SB 6 are going into effect relatively soon.
Weak Addressing of Constraints
Above, we noted gaps in the constraints analysis. We also note that constraints that have been analyzed are not adequately addressed.
Schedule: Programs 1.3 and 4.1 defer finer analysis of the constraints to housing development to EOY 2026, rather than making the effort to do so now during the Housing Element Update. With this delay, the constraints will remain in place through most of the 6th cycle.
Specificity: The actions specified remain vague, with, for instance, 1.3 not committing exactly what “outside the Zoning Ordinance” is to be reformed and 4.1 not specifying what actual actions are to be taken to address entitlement and post-entitlement timelines and approvals. The TDM Ordinance in 1.3 lacks detail on how much parking requirements can be reduced by, and the live-work program is left with “Study” language. Our earlier suggestions (and context) from June are still applicable.
Parking reduction: Program 1.2 restricts parking minimum changes to 100% affordable housing projects. The suggested parking reduction in Program 1.3 is potentially broader but extremely vague. In the staff memo for the Planning Commission, staff mentions that while they recognize parking is a constraint on development, the existence of some public opposition means that they should only commit to reducing parking reductions on a few projects, and even then only “if necessary.” It should also be noted that addressing parking as a constraint requires more than changing the zoning. Projects do not always take advantage of the parking reduction, given the precarity of financing and public opinion usually pushing them to build more parking than desired, as seen with a nearby project in Los Altos.
Park fees: Program 1.8 still lacks quantified objectives on how much park fees should be reduced. Given that this is the second-largest development cost imposed on projects by the city, this should be explicit. In the last update on the Parks and Recreation Strategic Plan to council in September, the wording was “Changes to the ordinance can change the way park land fees are calculated for new residential development.” The city also continues to impose the Park Land fee on non-subdivision projects without following the Mitigation Fee Act, as the Quimby Act only applies to subdivision projects.
Inclusionary zoning: Program 1.9 defers analysis of the inclusionary zoning requirement’s effect on housing production and lacks specificity on how impact is measured and what level of significance triggers changes. It also omits mention that our ordinance requires ownership developments to have BMR units that meet exactly 100% weighted AMI, as compared to the rental equivalent being the looser “less than or equal to 65% weighted AMI.” While staff may have done this to encourage moderate income developments, it defers feasibility analysis of moderate-income development and instead pushes projects to need to use a density bonus incentive (as seen with a recent project).
Other fees: While Programs 1.8 and 1.9 cover the largest city-imposed costs, there is still no program to address the other fees, as the city continues to add more despite projects already being infeasible.
Since the city is not currently proposing any significant upzoning (other than the harmonization of the shopping centers mentioned above), the only programs to address housing mobility in the R1 areas south of El Camino Real are those on ADUs and SB 9 (1.6, 1.7, 2.2), nonconforming sites (1.5), and Religious/Community sites (1.4).
**Schedule: **A broad concern is that these programs are all quite late in the timeline. Religious/Community sites, SB 9 condo mapping, and ADU/SB 9 incentives are set to be enacted at the midpoint of the cycle, which obviously delays their effects within this cycle.
ADUs: Program 1.7 defers analysis of the constraints to ADU and SB 9 production to a date no earlier than 2025, though such analysis should have been done in the preparation of the Housing Element. Program 2.2 calls for a “financial incentives” pilot, but does not state how much funding the city is willing to provide1 (other than the fee exemption). Further, the program calls for an assessment of the pilot in 2028, with only two years left in the cycle, and gives no quantitative objectives metrics for the assessment.
Feasibility: When asked whether the 30-40 du/ac target for Religious/Community sites in Program 1.4 is feasible, staff concedes that a project of such low density hasn’t been developed in decades2, and that the most recent religious-site project would be equivalent to ~75-100 du/ac had it been all-residential rather than office-townhomes. Such low density is unlikely to encourage any organization to apply, given history of community opposition killing a school housing project and troubles in neighboring Palo Alto over allowing a church to host four car dwellers.
Non-conforming sites: Program 1.5 seeks to maintain non-conforming developments in R1/R2 districts, implying that a downzoning occurred in the past. Such sites should instead be rezoned to the zone that reflects their existing density (e.g. R3/R4) in order to better clarify to owners the land use regulations that apply and to ensure no net loss of housing on such sites occurs in the future, especially in case of teardown-and-rebuilds. Further, neighborhoods like these that were previously downzoned despite existing structures would be appropriate for upzoning beyond just the lot that is non-conforming.
School access: Given the history of redlining and zoning laws used to keep access to good schools exclusive, the city could have taken a closer look at ways to make access to Mountain View’s schools more inclusive to lower income families who would get the most benefit. Sadly, a relatively large portion of the city’s unused zoned residential capacity is in North Bayshore, a former office park that has no schools, grocery stores or other amenities. Upzoning in a ½-mile walking distance radius of any of the city’s elementary schools would further access to Mountain View’s high resource schools. Better yet, the city could consider programs that provide bonus FAR or other incentives in exchange for requiring on-site BMR units to ensure the homes near schools are accessible to those with the most need.
Omission of Existing City Actions
Permitting process reform: Program 4.1 is a veiled reference to the Development Review Study done in 2021, though lacking many of the study’s details and recommendations. As MV YIMBY has previously commented, we strongly support the implementation of the Development Review Study’s recommendations, which mostly deal with process streamlining. Without explicitly incorporating the Study, Program 4.1 is too vague in its actual implementation, given the draft actions are all “Reviews” and the only fixed metric is “Update Process by EOY 2026.”
Multifamily upzoning: Program 1.3 implicitly refers to the R3 Zoning Update, a council-initiated process to reform our largest multifamily residential district to encourage higher-density development, prompted by recent (pre-SB 330) projects that produced marginal-to-negative net new housing. Staff notes similarly in their memo to the Planning Commission, though they left to that body the decision of whether the process should be incorporated explicitly. They deferred this decision, and intend to revisit it based on HCD’s review of this second draft. The Update already analyzed R3’s constraints, with community meetings that supported the 2020 proposal of higher heights; however, staff heard opposition outside of these meetings, leading to a shift from looking at height limit changes to “scale and character,” the definitions of which were left to the audiences of the newer meetings to define.
Biased engagement: Program 4.7 seeks to address neighborhood engagement via sharing of community contact information to encourage more meetings. For local context, staff tried to put this into action via citywide mailers and reaching out to neighborhood associations to attract people to a series of neighborhood meetings over the R3 Update process earlier this year. However, the demographics of participants skewed far from the actual residents: renters represented 3-23% of attendees despite being a majority of most neighborhoods. This activity did not further the stated goals of “keeping the community informed” (unless “community” means homeowners) or “fostering support.”
Public requests for tenant protection slow-walked: Community comment over the first Housing Element draft brought up desires for stronger housing preservation and protection strategies, in particular an Opportunity to Purchase (COPA) system and local right-to-return. However, Program 2.1 couches COPA under “possibly including,” deferring to some unstated future date Council’s decision of whether to do it at all. Program 3.2 likewise couches anti-displacement strategies under “may include,” deferring action to 2028 (near the end of the cycle). The lack of clear commitment for these actions does a disservice to all those who have commented, many of whom are the victims of the housing shortage.
Housing Committee frozen out: Programs 1.12 and 3.2 refer to the implementation of the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act. The CSFRA (and the Mobile Home Rent Stabilization Ordinance) is overseen by the Rental Housing Committee, a body independent of Council. However, in the preparation of this Housing Element, the Committee was never asked to provide input, despite being bound by the Element (though they already do tenant and landlord outreach).