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Lafayette Real Estate and the Governor’s Housing Proposal

by Ron
June 16, 2016

Balancing needs in Lafayette real estateI recently wrote a post about the proposed Lafayette real estate project on Deer Hill Road, and transitioned into a discussion on Governor Brown’s proposed legislation to streamline the approval process for high-density, low income housing throughout the state.   In the original post, I wrote, “the state would be setting aside local zoning, the desires of local citizens, compatibility with local general plans, and essentially stating that regardless of the desires of the local citizens, these new low income housing projects will get approved ‘as a right’.”

The Divergence of Opinion

City Manager, Steven Falk, sent me an email stating that this statement was “incorrect”.  Mr. Falk explained that the legislation “largely respects land-use decisions that have previously been discussed and debated by the public, and adopted by local city councils.”  He further stated, “In Lafayette’s case, all  fast-tracked projects would thus have to be consistent with the Lafayette’s currently-in-place rules…”  Mr. Falk explained that, “it appears that the most significant impact to Lafayette’s review process for a multi-family development would be an expedited design review requirement (90 days)… and it is for this reason that the Lafayette City Council has opposed the measure.”

Seeking to only present accurate information, I edited the original post and quickly removed the “incorrect” information.  Upon further research on this subject, there is clearly a divergence of opinion on what the real impact will be if the legislation passed in its present form.  In order to provide a balanced perspective, I would like to share what others have said on this matter.  An excellent place to begin to understand the fine points of the proposed legislation is with Todd Williams’ analysis on the Wendel-Rosen LLP website.  Mr. Williams is an attorney specializing in real estate and land use law.

The Design Review Process for Lafayette Real Estate – Now and Proposed

Lafayette currently has a comprehensive planning and Design Review process to evaluate proposed projects and for potentially impacted parties to have an opportunity to review and voice concerns.  The rigor of Design Review is largely responsible for the protection of ridge lines, height restrictions, ensuring that housing conforms with the general character and size of other homes in the neighborhood, etc.   The planning and Design Review process takes a lot longer than the 90 days that is mandated by the Brown legislation for potentially large, multi-family projects.

In Mr. Williams’ analysis, he states, “The [Brown] proposal also includes streamlined processing for qualifying projects. If the local government determines the project is inconsistent with general plan and zoning standards, it must give written documentation of, and explain the reasons for, the inconsistency within 30 days of the application’s submittal. If this deadline is missed or the documentation regarding the inconsistency is inadequate the development is deemed to qualify for by right approval.”

Even the casual observer likely will see the plethora of potential legal land mines and the abundance of litigation that could emanate from foreseeable bureaucratic processing breakdowns, or a municipality simply lacking the resources to comprehensively evaluate each proposal for compliance with the general plan and zoning within the first 30 days.  It is also not clear where environmental impact studies would fit into the Brown proposal.

The Lafayette Mayor’s Position

The City of Lafayette’s position is articulated in a letter written by Mayor Mark Mitchell.  Mr. Mitchell explains, “We believe that such fundamental policy changes should not be rushed through as a budget proposal, but merit extensive review by the appropriate policy committees in a deliberative fashion.”  Most important, he states that, “Eliminating opportunities for public review of major development projects goes against the principles of local democracy and public engagement.  While it may be frustrating for some developers to hear concerns about traffic, parking, and other development impacts, those affected by such projects have a right to be heard.  Not having such outlets will increase public distrust in government.”

Understand the Facts and Let Your Views Be Known

As one who deeply cares about Lafayette, and as a constant advocate for our town , I personally want our state politicians to VERY CAREFULLY consider the rather sweeping changes proposed, and look deeply into the possible unintended consequences of the legislation.  Because the Brown proposal has the potential to profoundly impact Lafayette, please take the time to read the facts, the full breadth of opinion on this matter, reach your own conclusions, and let your concerns or support be known to your elected officials.  That is really what our democracy is all about.

Our representatives are:

Catherine Baker, Assembly

Steve Glazer, State Senate