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Saving the Control of Lafayette CA Real Estate for Its Citizens

by Ron
June 12, 2016

Lafayette CA ReservoirI usually try to stay away from issues that have the potential of becoming politicalized, but the issues that are being addressed by the Save Lafayette organization really need to be better understood by the residents of Lafayette, as well as those living in similar small towns throughout California.  What’s really at stake is the citizens’ right to vote and make an informed choice about shaping the look and character of the town they choose to live in.  Should the citizens of a town or city have the right to control growth, to zone areas of Lafayette CA real estate to preserve elements that are important to them, or should the current planning functions, zoning laws, and local controls be taken away and usurped by the State?

Planning functions have traditionally been left in the hands of local residents and the corresponding governmental bodies that have jurisdiction, and establish policies that should reflect the desires of the local citizens.  Here in town, that control has been in the hands of the citizens of Lafayette, their elected representatives, the City Planning Department, the Design Review process, etc…   This is logical and reasonable as long as the local citizens and their elected representatives abide by the law, don’t engage in discriminatory behavior or any other actions that violate the laws or ethical codes of conduct for our country.

The originally proposed low income housing project on Deer Hill Road gave birth to the “Save Lafayette” organization.  The proposal was to build approximately 300 low income housing units on the ridge line adjacent to Deer Hill Road between Pleasant Hill Rd and the BART station.  That area of Lafayette CA real estate is undeniably the most heavily traveled route in town, and Pleasant Hill Road is the most heavily traveled surface street in the entire county.  Aside from the fact that it would have required a ridge line to be destroyed that would have normally fallen under Lafayette’s protective ridge line ordinance, the traffic implications to the area would have been profound.

From an economic perspective, significant changes in housing density will have a direct impact upon Lafayette CA real estate valuations due to significant increases in traffic and commute times.  That is an indisputable fact that I’ve never seen addressed in any of the planning studies done for high impact projects such as the proposed 300+ unit low-income housing project on Deer Hill Road.  After much resistance, the developer submitted an alternative plan to build approximately 40 single family homes in the same highly controversial location.  The Save Lafayette organization seeks to put the matter on the local Lafayette ballet so that the citizens can decide if the ridge line should be altered and traffic further impacted for that project.  The Lafayette City Attorney advised against putting it on the ballet, and now the matter will be heard in court on June 24th.

Lafayette also finds itself squarely in the cross hairs of litigation originating from a San Francisco-based renter’s group called San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (SFBARF), who is alleging that Lafayette is not building its “fair share” of low income housing.  Lafayette is the first of many towns being targeted by SFBARF.  Furthermore, Governor Brown has recently proposed sweeping legislation that would streamline new “low income” housing project approvals.  These projects would get approved “as a right” by the state.

According to City Manager, Steven Falk, “If the Governor’s proposal were to become law, it appears that the most significant impact to Lafayette’s review process for a multi-family development would be an expedited design review requirement.  According to the current proposal, design review could not take longer than 90 days nor could it interfere with the by-right approval of an eligible project.  This would certainly present a challenge to Lafayette’s long-standing design-review culture, and it is for this reason that the Lafayette City Council has opposed the measure.” 

If you have an opinion on whether that is right or wrong… if you care about the future of Lafayette real estate, the quality and integrity of the town’s general plan, zoning laws, etc… you need to voice your opinion to the appropriate elected officials.

I understand the intent.  We do need more low-income housing in the Bay Area, particularly in San Francisco where low-skilled workers cannot afford housing.  We do not have the same problems in Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Orinda, Moraga, etc.  We are surrounded by areas with an adequate supply of affordable housing at varying price points and types.  Affordable housing is available in Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, Concord, Pittsburg, Antioch, Brentwood, etc…  Within Lafayette, additional high density housing stock has been built downtown and is planned for the western portion of Mt. Diablo Blvd, all in conformance with the city’s general plan.  That makes sense.

For more information, check out the Save Lafayette website, and to voice an opinion directed to your elected representatives, please see:

Catherine Baker, Assembly

Steve Glazer, State Senate