Pleasanton Housing Cap Lawsuit Update

Downtown Pleasanton

The action on March 12, 2010 by an Alameda County Superior Court judge overturning the City of Pleasanton voter-approved cap on housing permits is the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of action and inaction related to how a community plans for its housing needs. The following is a brief timeline and summary of the events that led to the court action:

  • 1996: Pleasanton voters approved measure GG which capped the issuance of residential building permits at 29,000 units.  At that time there were approximately 21,500 units in Plesanton.
  • 2001: As part of its General Plan Housing Element Update process, the State of California requires the City of Pleasanton to zone land to accommodate 5,059 units by 2007.  This obligation to zone land for a specific number of units is part of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process which uses a variety of factors to determine housing needs.  All cities in California are required to plan for their respective RHNA.
  • 2003: The Housing Element acknowledges there is not enough land currently zoned for residential development to accommodate the units called for in the RHNA.  Policies in the Housing Element commit the City to rezoning land to meet the RHNA needs by June 2004.
  • 2004: The City fails to rezone land as promised in the Housing Element.
  • 2005: The California Housing and Community Department revokes its certification of the Housing Element.  This action, among other things, draws the attention of local and regional affordable housing advocates.
  • 2006: Lawsuits were filed by a public-advocacy law firm asking the city to comply with state law and to repeal measure GG – the 29,000 unit housing cap.  The basis of the lawsuit is that, as noted in the 2002 Housing Element, the 29,000 unit cap would not allow enough units to be planned to meet the RHNA requirements.
  • 2009: Attorney General Brown joins the lawsuit on the basis of Pleasanton’s jobs-housing imbalance (there are more jobs than housing units in Pleasanton) and his assertion that Pleasanton’s growth control policies limit the creation of “workforce” housing which force Pleasanton workers to commute from other communities and contribute to the creation of green house gasses.

NOTE: As of March 2010 there are approximately 27,000 residential units in Pleasanton leaving approximately 2,000 more that could be built under the voter-approved cap.  This is less than half of the units called for in the RHNA.

  • March, 2010: An Alameda County Superior Court judge rules in favor of the plaintiffs and orders the City of Pleasanton to do the following:
    • Zone land for residential development to meet the RHNA requirements; and
    • Stop issuing non-residential building permits.

As of this writing, the City of Pleasanton has not yet responded to the court order.

This issue is relevant to real estate professionals in the following ways:

  • Zoning vs. Development: While the City of Pleasanton may be forced by the court to rezone land for either residential uses or “up-zone” current residential land to allow for higher densities, this action does not guarantee that actual residential development (at any density) will occur.  The City is only compelled to rezone the land – not approve residential development.  Furthermore, the City of Pleasanton is not a residential developer – it only has authority over land use decisions.  Given the current economic and development environment it is unlikely that residential developers will rush in to take advantage of the court order.
  • Commercial Real Estate: The court order for the City of Pleasanton to stop issuing building permits could be problematic for commercial real estate.  It is unclear whether the order applies to permits related to the construction of new, non-residential developments, or to all non-residential building activity.  It remains to be seen if tenant improvements that would require a building permit would be subject to the court order.
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