By David M. Greenwald
My expectation is that Measure J is likely to pass the electorate with at least 70 percent of the vote next month. I have long supported the renewal of Measure J but I was disappointed, as I have noted on here, that we did not have more community-based discussion leading up to the renewal process—nor did we have a rigorous analysis of the impacts, positive and negative, of the now 20-year-old seminal land use law.
What I present here is not something new, but rather an alternative model that I have presented previous—one of its strengths is that it can work within the current structure of Measure J.
Moreover, it can also be build into the current planning process as part of either the Housing Element Update or the General Plan update.
Further, it has the advantage of enhancing the planning process that right now many have argued is antiquated—especially in terms of the age of the current General Plan.
The basic idea is to prepare for the next ten years of land use planning, figuring out how much housing and commercial space we need and then setting aside the land for that housing through a preapproval
process. This would take a vote of the public to exempt the land from a future Measure J vote.
How this would work would be just like a Housing Element or General Plan process. The council would approach a commission that could take in all the proposed projects and areas and determine which properties to consider and what rough sketches of the projects would look like.
One important part of this process is that we would need strong community buy-in. The 2007 Housing Element Steering Commission worked well because there were representatives across the board as part of that process.
This would be a public process where you would have workshops, public hearings, public meetings of the commission. Project applicants would come forward during this time to request consideration of their parcels for preapproval.
Ultimately it would go to council where the council would also hear public hearings, receive the report, and ultimately vote to preapprove the land.
The project would then have to go on the ballot. There are several parts of this. Obviously, it would go to the commissions—particularly Natural Resources, Open Space, Social Services and Planning.
It would have to go through a CEQA process just like any other project.
Ultimately it would go back to the council for final approval before it goes to the voters. As part of that approval, there would be project baseline features just like any Measure J vote. These would not have the level of specificity of a specific project.
But they would deal with the type of development—housing or commercial or mixed-use, it would cap the number of units, and it would also address things like affordable housing plan, and also whether the housing is ownership or rental and the basic type of housing.
The specifics of the projects would be planned after the preapproval process.
With any approach there are advantages and disadvantages.
Among the advantages is, first, that it would not require a change to Measure J. Some will say, you are proposing weakening Measure J. No. The city can do this already under Measure J. It doesn’t touch Measure J—at the end of the day, the voters will get to decide.
But there are other advantages.
It ensures an actual planning process. I am suggesting a ten-year planning process, but it could be eight, or it could even be 30. But this forces the city to think about all of the projects that come forward at once.
Second, we deal with affordable housing up front. Every single project right now is a fight over affordable housing. There are costs and trade offs. This allows us to plan affordable housing over a specified period of time, to figure out how much we need and where it will go. We might even be able to set aside land overall and have a large land dedication site run by a non-profit affordable housing company.
Third, we gain more certainty for all involved. We don’t have to plan on a project-by-project basis. The developers will know before they have to do expensive environmental planning whether their project is being considered.
Those projects that are not preapproved will go to the back of the line for consideration.
There are disadvantages here as well.
The biggest is that the community demands a high degree of certainty and specificity with projects and there is a real question as to whether the voters will approve concepts with the specifics being held out until the planning process starts.
Remember, this is not the end of the story. Even if the voters vote to set aside land exempt from a future Measure J vote, that doesn’t end the process. They still have to put in an application and go through the normal planning process.
In my mind the fact that we can plan projects ten years out, the fact that we can offer more certainty once the preapproval process is done—and we can figure out in advance what housing we need, what type we need, where it’s going to go, and how much affordable housing we need—is only a good thing.
At the end of the day, if the voters don’t like the idea or the plan, they have the option of voting no.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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