This email contains current updates as well as prior updates to create a layered timeline of Housing Element activity. The most recent update by date is included at the top.
Update from November 17, 2023:
On January 31, 2023 the Town Council adopted and self-certified the Town's 2023-31 Housing Element. Pursuant to state law, the Town then submitted a copy of the adopted housing element to the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for review and certification. On April 4, 2023, the Town received a letter from HCD that found the adopted housing element addresses many statutory requirements; however, additional revisions are necessary to substantially comply with State Housing Element Law (Article 10.6 of the Government Code). Because the Town did not adopt a compliant housing element within 120 days of the statutory deadline (January 31, 2023), any rezoning required to enact the element’s housing programs and achieve its regional housing needs allocation must be completed by January 31, 2024.
There are three major tracts of updates happening concurrently that will inform the updated Housing Element for 2023-2031 that the Town submits for re-evaluation by HCD. The first process is environmental review pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The second process is the adoption of amendments to the Town’s Planning Code that are necessary to advance the programs in the adopted Housing Element. The third process includes text revisions to the adopted Housing Element that reflect any changes or refinements pursued by the Town since January 31, 2023. The status of each process and next steps are discussed individually below.
At City Council meetings in July and September of this year, staff received direction on the Project Description for use during the CEQA evaluation process. The purpose of the environmental analysis is to evaluate the potential impacts associated with the project, in this case, the Housing Element and related zoning code changes. The analysis begins with an “initial study” that informs the degree of potential impacts and whether or not a “Negative Declaration” or “Environmental Impact Report” (EIR) is required to identify and/or mitigate any impacts per CEQA. At this time, staff is working with consultants in special topic areas to complete the initial study. This component of the Housing Element update process is currently the most influential from a timeline standpoint. This is because the outcome of this analysis requires at least a 30-day public comment period, depending upon the type of documentation required to complete review, i.e. a Negative Declaration or an EIR.
As staff works with consultants to complete this process, efforts are simultaneously underway to update other areas of the zoning code that are either exempt from this CEQA process or can benefit from further public input. These efforts are described further below.
Updates to the Planning Code
There are three major amendments to the Planning Code currently in process to align the Town’s policies and programs with the adopted Housing Element. This includes updates to the Town’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Ordinance, the creation of multifamily design and development standards, and the consideration of an Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.
Updates to the Town’s ADU Ordinance are currently under review. The Planning Commission adopted a resolution at their October 25, 2023, meeting that recommended revisions for consideration by the City Council at their meeting on November 15, 2023. The Council discussed the issue at the November 15 meeting and ultimately continued the discussion to January 17, 2024.
The purpose of the ADU Ordinance is two-fold, to align the Town’s regulations with state law and to incorporate programs identified in the Town’s adopted Housing Element. Should the City Council approve an ordinance that is different from the adopted Housing Element, staff will revise the Housing Element accordingly and provide those revisions to the Planning Commission and City Council when they reconsider a comprehensive Housing Element update package. State law requires the Town to send its ADU Ordinance to HCD for review and, therefore, subsequent revisions to the ordinance may be required. This review process is distinct from HCD’s review of Housing Elements and can also be iterative, especially with the regular passage of ADU-related state laws. Adoption of an ordinance with the intent to align with state law is a demonstration of good faith effort that is especially important given the Town’s focus on ADUs as a strategy for lower income housing units. This process is exempt from CEQA review.
Multifamily Design and Development Standards
The Town is currently in a community outreach and engagement process to receive input on standards that will apply to multifamily development. This commenced with a workshop on October 23, 2023, and has continued with a joint study session between the City Council and Planning Commissioners on November 1, 2023, as well as a second workshop on November 13, 2023. The discussion at the joint study session has not concluded and will also carry over to a second study session on November 27, 2023, at 3PM in Council Chambers.
The goal of these outreach efforts is to receive feedback that will facilitate an initial draft of standards. These standards will then require consideration by both the Planning Commission and City Council for adoption. Because these standards reflect the implementation of the addition of a zoning overlay, currently under evaluation in the CEQA process, adoption of the standards must occur at the completion of the CEQA process.
Inclusionary Housing Ordinance and Fee
The adopted Housing Element references two components of a program relating to the pursuit of an inclusionary housing ordinance and fee. The first component would require 20 percent of market rate units in a multifamily development project to be made available to households at lower-income levels. The second component would require a fee on single-family development and additions. This fee program would then provide an in-lieu option whereby a project could provide an affordable deed-restricted ADU or Junior ADU (JADU) on-site instead of paying the fee. Funds generated by this fee would be used to support affordable housing in Atherton, which could facilitate subsidies for housing needed in future housing element cycles.
The description above reflects the objectives of an inclusionary housing ordinance and fee program that is identified in the adopted housing element. It does not reflect an adopted program. Consultants for the Town are currently preparing a nexus study that evaluates the feasibility of this program. For example, the study would provide guidance as to the best proportion of multifamily housing that should be affordable, as well as what income levels are achievable given the Town’s development environment. The nexus study would also provide information to the Town on the appropriate impact fee amount that should apply to single-family development in order to facilitate affordable housing.
Housing Element Text Revisions
The major remaining effort to update the text of the Housing Element itself, is to align revisions with the decisions that are made based on the zoning code updates described above and to shift other programmatic deadlines to reflect the current state of the Housing Element. Text revisions will also include any clarifications HCD has previously requested.
Staff anticipates receiving feedback and responses from consultants over the next four to six weeks. This information will continue to shape both the Planning Commission and City Council agendas. However, as described above, to not severely impact these calendars, staff has taken an approach to move forward what decisions and discussions may be possible at this time. These actions include consideration and adoption of updates to the ADU Ordinance and providing constructive feedback towards the creation of design and development standards for multifamily housing.
Update from October 27, 2023:
On November 1 @ 4 PM (Council Chambers), there will be a Joint Study Session with the City Council and Planning Commission to discuss Multi-Family Housing objective design and development standards. The meeting agenda can be found here (click here).
On October 23 @ 6 pm (Council Chambers), staff will host Workshop #1 on Objective Design Standards for potential Multi-Family Housing Developments. As you may know, as the Town moves through the 6th Cycle Housing Element process, the Town has had to identify residential and educational parcels in Town for potential development as multi-family housing at specified densities yet to be determined. The Town has included 23 Oakwood, 175, 185, and 197 Ravenswood, 999 Ringwood, and 296, 318, and 352 Bay as potential residential parcels that could be opportunity sites for multi-family zoning. These parcels are currently being evaluated as potential multi-family under the required California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process at densities up to 10 units per acre. Not all of these sites would be included in the Town's Housing Element submittal to the State. Also, the Town is evaluating higher density multi-family at school sites within the Public Facilities and Schools zoning district. Specifically, this analysis will evaluate density of 20+ units per acre. Lastly, CEQA will evaluate density on properties in the POS Zone of up to 5 units at each site. For all of these different multi-family densities, the Town must also create Objective Design Standards that can be applied "objectively" - i.e. they can be interpreted and applied without discretion - to each potential development.
Workshop #1 on October 23 will focus on an introduction to basic objective design and development criteria. The criteria must be objective in nature and be able to be applied to any multi-family development proposal fairly and equally without discretion. These criteria must address issues such as (not exhaustive) height, setbacks, massing, articulation, fences, walls, landscaping, screening, buffering, parking, structure parking, ingress, egress, site lighting, tree removal, tree protection, upper level privacy impact, site coverage, window articulation, facade articulation, porches and entries, roof and eaves, pedestrian entry locations, pedestrian gates, vehicle gates, courtyards, shared amenities, ADUs or JADUs, loading zones, and refuse collection.
Since these Objective Design Standards must be codified into law, they must be written in a way that cannot be subject to interpretation. They must be clear and be able to be objectively applied.
Following Workshop #1, the City Council and Planning Commission will host a Joint Study Session on November 1 @ 4 pm. This meeting will focus on any feedback received from Worskhop #1 and will allow the Commission and Council to discuss their perspectives given their role as legislative policymakers.
Workshop #2 will be hosted on Monday, November 13. The exact time and location for this Workshop is yet to be set. Taking the input from Workshop #1 and the Study Session on November 1, staff will present a draft set of objective design standards with the goal of getting additional community feedback and refinement before formal consideration at a future Commission and Council Meeting.
Lastly, there will be an Online-Only Community Forum on Housing in early November (tentatively November 8) to give the community a high-level overview of where the Town is in the Housing Element submittal process and what the expectations are for further public engagement and outreach over the next few months. The exact time of the online forum is yet to be set. November and December are typical holiday months where many in the community may be out of town. The Online Forum will provide an overview of pending meetings and processes to allow residents to pencil in those meetings they deem important or issues they wish to comment upon as the Commission and Council move the legislative requirements forward.
The Town has engaged Tripepi-Smith to aid the Town in community outreach and public engagement. They will be assisting the Town with getting the word out on social media and via other community touch-points to help you stay engaged. The Town has also engaged Joe A. Gonsalves & Son (a lobbyist firm) to assist the Town in making legislative connections where necessary to better tell the Town's story to the State about Atherton's uniqueness and the many ways in which the Town can comply with the State mandate that protect the Town's community character. These firms add support to the Town's full-time staff and consultant team working diligently on the Town's next Housing Element submission to the State.
In addition to the development of Objective Design Standards, other ongoing work related to the Housing Element includes CEQA (a 4-6 month process), development of an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, updates to the Town's Heritage Tree Ordinance, updates to the Town's Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance, updates to the Town's Planning and Building processes for ADUs, and updates to the Town's fee schedule. All revisions to existing law, development of new laws, and/or adoption of any fees are public processes that make their way through public meetings of the Planning Commission and City Council.
Update from September 18, 2023:
Residents are encouraged to participate in the September 20 Regular City Council Meeting (6 pm). At the meeting, the Council will consider a few additions to the Town's CEQA review for the Housing Element. In July, the Council added 4 properties - 999 Ringwood, 352 Bay, 318 Bay, and 296 Bay. These properties had been previously considered. However, the Council also opted to consider 3 properties on Ravenswood - 175, 185, and 197 as well as properties within the Park and Open Space Zone (to be considered for small-scale workforce housing). These additional properties (Ravenswood and Park and Open Space Zones) had not previously been considered; so on September 20, the Council will consider them for final additions to the CEQA review.
At the September 20 meeting, the Council will also consider providing direction to staff regarding engagement of a marketing team, a lobbyist, and a financial feasibility consultant to assist the Town in moving forward with its Housing Element.
Work on the Town's Housing Element continues as the Planning Team works to prepare preliminary drafts of Objective Design Standards for review by the Planning Commission and community. These will be making their way forward through a community workshop, Planning Commission meeting, and ultimately the City Council for review and approval. The Planning Team is also working to complete revisions to the Town's Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance, Inclusionary Ordinance, and initial phases of CEQA Review. All of these preliminary drafts will make their way through the public process ultimately to be finalized by the City Council. The overall target is to complete an update to the Town's 6th Cycle Housing Element in response to the State's comments in April 2023 for resubmission by the end of this year.
Here is a link to the September 20, 2023 HTML Agenda.
Update from July 12, 2023:
Residents are encouraged to participate in the July 19 Regular City Council Meeting (6 pm). At the meeting, the Council will consider the CEQA Project Description and could add policies or properties for additional analysis in order to meet the State's mandates for affordable housing solutions. NOTE: Including the policies or properties as part of the CEQA Project Analysis does not mean inclusion in the Housing Element. As was noted in the June 23 Monthly Matters, as the Council finalizes the Housing Element's CEQA Project Description, any additional policy or site options (such as sites for affordable housing solutions) need to be included in the CEQA review - even if they are not ultimately selected for inclusion in the Housing Element as a local solution. CEQA will help the Council and community better understand potential impacts, such as infrastructure, traffic, density, etc. All things that we cannot answer at this time.
The current Housing Element relies heavily on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and multi-family solutions at Menlo College, Menlo School, and 23 Oakwood to meet the State's mandates. However, the most recent letter from the State (April 2023), advised that the solutions proposed may not be sufficient to satisfy the State's requirements, particularly at the Very Low and Low Income housing categories. If the Council deems it necessary to expand those solutions based on State feedback, the July 19 meeting is the opportunity to add additional solutions for environmental review. It is important to note again that including a potential affordable housing solution (policy or property) in the CEQA Project Description does not necessarily mean that that solution will ultimately be included in the Housing Element that is resubmitted to the State. CEQA provides the Council and community with environmental and feasibility analyses that can be used to narrow down options for inclusion. The goal is to include enough properties in the review to have some options and then to narrow down the list to 2-3 properties, if needed to include in the Housing Element.
The Council and community have been discussing numerous properties for potential inclusion in the Housing Element as part of multi-family solutions. These include, but are not limited to, properties along El Camino Real (1 lot in that front to or back up to ECR), a property on Polhemus, a property on Santiago/Valparaiso, properties on Bay Road, and the Gilmore House in the Park. As has been noted before, over time and based on community feedback, the Council pulled back to focus solely on ADUs, Menlo College, Menlo School and 23 Oakwood. This was with the caveat that while the Town will attempt to gain compliance with that solution, the State may reject it and the Town could be forced to return to the drawing board and reconsider properties that had been set aside or identify other solutions.
The Town is continuing to push forward with ADUs as the highest and best solution in Town and there is a survey (see below) that you can complete to assist us in getting data to the State. But, based on State feedback, staff is advising the Council that we may need to consider other affordable housing solutions. Including options in the CEQA analysis will allow the Council and community to make more informed decisions about whether a property could or should be considered.
Update from June 22, 2023:
Residents are encouraged to participate in the latest round of Housing Element Updates by watching the June 19, 2023 Community Workshop and participating in two open community surveys. The workshop focused on the State's AFFH requirements and how they relate to the Town and its affordable housing strategies - to include any potential for multi-family. Feedback from this Workshop will feed into the City Council's Regular Meeting on July 19 at which the Council must clearly define the required Project Description for the purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review of the Town's Housing Element.
June 19, 2023 Community Workshop Materials:
Please fill out the following surveys to help the Town with the Housing Element update.
Update from June 12, 2023:
After the Town certified, adopted and submitted its 6th Cycle Housing Element to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), initial comments were received on April 4, 2023 - here is a link to the letter received from HCD. A Report was presented to the City Council at their May 17 Regular Meeting (Link to Report) outlining HCD's feedback and recommendations.
HCD's comments require the Town to provide further analysis of the following:
- How will the Town address the needs of Extremely Low-Income (ELI) households and Special Needs Populations?
- How will the Town mitigate Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) issues including fair housing, capacity, inventory, and other contributing factors?
- The Town must expand the discussion of housing needs to include specific quantitative data related to income level.
- The Town must further analyze identified SB 9 sites to ensure that the unit yield predicted will achieve the Town's Regional Housing Needs Analysis (RHNA) Goals.
- The Town must further analyze sites and strategies to determine if the overall site inventory meets the Town's RHNA Goals - including capacity, small and large sites, zoning for lower-income households, suitability of non-vacant sites, infrastructure, and site shortfalls.
- The Town must further analyze governmental and non-governmental constraints - local processes, ordinances, densities, and other constraints.
- The Town must assess its multi-family strategy to ensure that it meets the requirements of State law.
- The Town must address HCD's concerns related to its Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) strategy.
On Monday, June 19, the Town's Planning Team will host an Outreach Workshop to discuss the State's AFFH requirements and how they relate to the Town and its affordable housing strategies - to include any potential for multi-family. Feedback from this Workshop will feed into the City Council's Regular Meeting on July 19 at which the Council must clearly define the required Project Description for the purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review of the Town's Housing Element.
The Town's Planning Team have numerous concurrent project studies and analysis ongoing in relation to the Housing Element. These include, but are not limited to: necessary CEQA review of the Town's Housing Element; creation of Objective Design Criteria; development of Land Use Ordinances for adoption consistent with the Housing Element Policies and Programs; development of an update to the Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance for consistency with State Law and the Housing Element; and creation of an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance. All of these studies and analysis will proceed through a public review and engagement process as they matriculate up to the Planning Commission and ultimately the City Council.
One of the key components of the Town's Housing Element is its reliance upon ADUs as a primary means of compliance at the Very Low and Low Income categories. That reliance rests on the community to commit to using ADUs as that viable solution. ADUs offer a practical solution for multi-generational families seeking additional living space. They can provide an opportunity for homeowners to downsize and/or use the ADU to generate rental income. ADUs can be used as shared family space or caretaker space at little or no cost. There are these and other habitation scenarios that exist today that will help the Town reach its State mandate.
To help with that effort, we launched an online survey to determine what's out there now. We need to determine if there are existing ADUs or Junior ADUs that are presently in use; and, if so, at what rate are they provided? If you have an ADU or JADU and have not yet responded, please do so HERE. The Survey will be up through the month of July 2023.
We do not anticipate a formal response back to HCD until the end of 2023 and after we have completed additional outreach workshops, completed CEQA, and completed various ordinance and land use revisions. To stay abreast of these meetings and issues, please be sure to sign up for the Town's News Flashes and Public Notices and watch the Agendas and Minutes page for meeting information. The City Council meets regularly on the 1st Wednesday of each month at 4 pm for a Study Session and on the 3rd Wednesday of each month at 6 pm for a Regular Meeting. The Planning Commission meets regularly on the 4th Wednesday of each month at 6 pm.
To stay engaged on Town topics and issues, sign up for the Town's E-News here. Comments may be sent to email@example.com.
Videos from Council Meetings are available here.