Two Woodside council members temporarily sit out housing element talks | News
Woodside Town Council members Dick Brown and Paul Goeld announced that they would not be taking part in the town’s state-mandated housing element process, citing conflicts of interest, at a Dec. 13 Town Council meeting. In neighboring Portola Valley, Council member Judith Hasko also recused herself from housing element discussions due to a potential conflict of interest.
The Woodside council’s main task for the evening was to discuss and make changes to its proposed housing element draft for 2023-31, which was amended by town consultants Baker Tilly, and Dyett & Bhatia in an effort to comply with state requirements. The consultants are rushing to respond to feedback from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
Town Attorney Jean Savaree said that Brown was following the lead of a Union City Vice Mayor Jaime PatiÒo who has recused himself from taking part in that city’s housing element process. Patino’s recusal was due to advice from a Sept. 22 letter from state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which said that living within 500 feet of a property being considered for development represents a conflict of interest. The FPPC said it would be reasonable to assume the council member would be impacted financially by new development near his home, the commission told Union City’s City Attorney Kristopher J. Kokotaylo in the letter.
Brown lives within 500 feet of a town-owned High Road site, which the council ultimately decided to remove from the element at the meeting, meaning Brown can take part in future housing element discussions unless the site is added back in, according to Mayor Chris Shaw.
Brown was initially joined in his recusal by newly-sworn in Council member Paul Goeld, who lives within 500 feet of one of the town-owned sites, Barkley Fields on Farm Hill Road, being considered for housing. During the beginning of the discussion, the council opted to remove the site from the inventory, as many community members have said they want the park to remain open space, and Goeld returned to take part in the conversation.
Savaree said that the recusal means the council member is required to leave the room during the discussion. They can come back and speak as a member of the public, then leave after they’ve made their comment.
Hasko of Portola Valley reached out to the FPPC and said she is awaiting word back, likely in early 2023, as to whether she needs to continue to sit out of Portola Valley’s housing element decisions because she lives within 1,000 feet of two sites on Alpine Road being considered for upzoning.
With the addition of a vacant lot inventory of 106 vacant single family parcels and 46 non-vacant single family parcels, the Woodside Town Council felt comfortable dropping higher density projects from the plan during the meeting. Overall, the town is tasked with planning for 328 units over the next eight years.
SB 9 units nixed
Consultants removed 16 homes, which the town said it could generate through Senate Bill 9, a law that took effect in January that allows single family properties to be split and for up to four units to be built between the two lots. They said that since no one has applied for a lot split in town, it’s unlikely that the state will accept that the town can produce housing through this mechanism.
“SB 9 is relatively new,” said Patrick O’Keefe, the consultant in charge of the housing element. “There’s cities who have not had a lot of experience with actually processing lot splits. … HCD said ‘show us your experience to justify putting these units in’ and we weren’t able to do that and since Dyett & Bhatia was able to come up with other sites to satisfy the RHNA requirement, we just dropped it out.”
Concerns about concentration of density
Consultants opted to add 17 units, for a total of 27 units, at 773 Cañada Road. They also increased the number of units that could go in at Runnymede Road from 10 to 16. There are also still 75 proposed units of housing in the plan at Cañada College at 4200 Farm Hill Road.
Council member Brian Dombkowski was concerned about the amount of density proposed in that part of town. He also noted that the units labeled as being on Runnymede are really on Raymundo Drive.
“I just find the level of concentration to be a little bit troubling,” he said. “It’s all going into Council member Goeld’s and in my district, basically. And it’s a lot to ask of one area of town. So I guess the question is, (is) HCD OK with concentrated geographic density or would they like it to be a little bit more spread out?”
O’Keefe said units are proposed throughout town but did acknowledge multi-family housing development is concentrated in that area of town.
The council opted to remove the 16 units at Runnymede because of concerns about earthquake and fire danger in the area.
The council removed the town-owned High Road site, with 11 units, from the plan.
“They (the sites) all have big issues,” said Goeld. “I don’t care whether it’s Raymundo or High Road or Cañada or whatever, they all have problems, and when residents are coming up and literally in tears talking about the impact that this is having on their lives, you’ve got a feel for them. … The sum of these sites are just horrible, whether it’s a sewer issue or whether it’s the geography of it, or the traffic issues, or whatever it happens to be … there is no ideal spot here, and we have to live with it.”
Mayor Pro Tem Jenn Wall said she is skeptical that the town is going to be able to find additional sites for high-density development, but welcomed the chance for consultants to come up with more palatable replacements.
Questions about ‘builder’s remedy’
Council members asked if the town would be at risk of the so-called “builder’s remedy,” which allows for residential projects to move forward even if they do not comply with local development standards, if it doesn’t have a compliant housing element by Jan. 31.
O’Keefe said that he doesn’t believe developers would be lining up to apply for building permits as they are in Santa Monica, where the builder’s remedy was recently instituted.
Savaree said the State Attorney General Rob Bonta would be required to meet with the town twice and discuss how the town intends to get into compliance with the housing element. The attorney general’s office could then sue the town or levy fines.
“The builder’s remedy is out there,” she said. “It’s a new law there, so there’s not a lot of experience with its application at this point.”
Town staff and consultants are meeting with HCD on Jan. 5 to discuss the modified plan to get additional feedback, according to Shaw.
Feedback from HCD will be presented at the Town Council meeting on Jan. 10.
“While I support the removal of the town-owned sites due to the added numbers created by the HCD demand for the vacant sites inventory, it is possible that the town-owned sites may be put back onto the plan at the direction of HCD on Jan. 5,” Shaw said in an email.
Listen to a recording of the meeting here.