In a debate that could spell a divide in the Los Altos City Council’s approach to housing, council last week was split on whether to invite representatives from a group that wrote a report suggesting state-mandated housing allocation figures in response to the affordable housing crisis. are based on faulty data at a future council meeting – triggering an exchange between the mayor and the vice-mayor.
Toward the end of the January 26 council meeting, Vice Mayor Anita Enander asked Mayor Neysa Fligor if they could bring someone from the Embarcadero Institute in Palo Alto to discuss the institute’s report, who accuses the state of using incorrect vacancy rate data. and also “double counting”, leading to legislation that exaggerated the number of housing units needed in the Bay Area and other areas of the state.
The Embarcadero Institute’s work has been questioned by some city planning experts, but other California cities have cited the institute’s research in combating the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) mandates of the state for the courts. The founders of the Embarcadero Institute donated to “slow-growing” local political candidates, according to the Mercury News, and the newspaper described the group as a “NIMBY think tank.”
Fligor rejected Enander’s request, followed by stern remarks that she was concerned about the precedent the invitation would set.
“I don’t want our board to be a group that invites controversial groups to speak at our board meetings,” Fligor said. “It’s a slippery slope, where we really have to understand: ‘Is this an institution that we can all listen to and believe to be credible?’ And it is not.
Enander responded by saying the council had invited controversial groups to speak at meetings in the past, then defended the Embarcadero Institute, saying challenging its report is “foolish” and ignoring its research would be “a disservice.” to our community.”
Council member Lynette Lee Eng, who also spoke out on the questioning of the state’s allocation of Los Altos, sided with Enander. But council members Sally Meadows and Jonathan Weinberg agreed with Fligor. Meadows said there was no consensus that the Embarcadero Institute is considered a thought leader or has broad credibility.
Weinberg added: “When dealing with interest groups that some of us may or may not agree with, giving them a platform in front of the council to speak not just to us, but to any the city, is in itself an implicit adoption of what this interest group says.
The 3-2 breakdown could be a preview of council’s perspective on how they will approach the updated housing element. Los Altos has reason to debate that, given that the new RHNA cycle — which begins in 2023 — results in the city having more than quadrupled the number of units it would need to plan, compared to the numbers in the current cycle. , which she is already struggling with. to hit. The city is on track to be responsible for planning to have more than 1,900 units by 2031.
During the meeting, city staff said they were hiring a group of consultants for more than $500,000 to help prepare the city for the updated housing element, and left open the possibility of appealing against their
“If indeed we find that we cannot accept RHNA numbers for any reason, I believe we would be in a better position to appeal if necessary,” said Jon Biggs, the city’s community development manager.
Biggs said the city strives to first comply with state laws regarding housing, and then to do so in a way that respects the character and community of Los Altos. He pointed to the possibilities for higher-density housing in the city’s commercial districts, noting that it would be “a bit more art than science.”
“Plus, make sure it’s a housing feature that the citizens of Los Altos can look up to and say, ‘We’re proud of it.’ Look at what we’re doing to help solve the state’s housing crisis,” Biggs said.