February 7, 2022
Looking to buy a home in the Bay Area? You’ll need a household income of about $235,000 to afford the median home price of $1.2 million — and that’s if you can find a seller who will take your money.
Whether it’s the climate, the innovative atmosphere, or the world-class tech ecosystem, people want to be here, and Bay Area housing prices continue to skyrocket. With many left out of the market or enduring long commutes to less expensive areas as a result, local leaders are working together to increase the housing supply and make the Bay Area more affordable for all. The League of California Cities Peninsula Division, city officials, and business leaders from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group came together to discuss the future of housing in the Bay Area at Housing in Your City, an online SVLG event on January 26.
Speakers Paul Peninger, Principal of Baird and Driskell Community Planning, Sandy Wong, former Executive Director of the City County Association of Governments of San Mateo County (C/CAG), and Robert Nesbitt, City Manager for the City of Half Moon Bay, gave their perspectives on how to align long-term planning efforts with housing needs. The session concluded with a legislative update from State Senator Dave Cortese.
Peninger, Principal of Baird and Driskell Community Planning in San Francisco, is an urban economist and planner specializing in policy and planning, financial feasibility and sustainable development.
He gave an overview of the Planning Collaborative of Santa Clara County, which was founded by the Cities Association of Santa Clara County with the support of all 16 Santa Clara County jurisdictions (15 cities and the county). Meeting monthly, the group aims to share best practices in support of locally-responsive housing policy, and is run with state and regional funding. Baird and Driscoll provides the jurisdictions with technical assistance as they seek solutions.
“We have a lot going on as a collaborative,” Peninger said. “It’s already been a very intense year—it feels like it’s three months, not just three weeks into January—but we’re working on a lot of different issues on behalf of the 16 jurisdictions in Santa Clara County.”
In 2022, the group will be focused on affordable housing, new policies and programs, and compliance with new state housing laws.
When asked about how cities will implement SB9 and 10, which allow for denser development on both single family lots and lots near transportation hubs, Peninger responded that cities will find a way to adapt.
“There have been other laws over the course of the past decades that have been challenging for jurisdictions to implement at the local level, and yet, cities and counties in California find a way to do it,” he said. “I think local jurisdictions will come up with solutions that are both consistent with state law and with local policy and programs.”
Sandy Wong is straightforward when it comes to housing – even when she’s admitting that it’s complex. For all our certainty about the need for more housing, questions abound when it is discussed: Who will build it? Where will it be located? What type of housing will it be?
“Everyone needs housing and we all want to live in a nice neighborhood. Right? So housing is very important to everyone in our community. When we talk about housing, it’s a very complicated matter,” said Wong, former executive director of City County Association of Governments of San Mateo County (C/CAG).
C/CAG operates as a joint powers authority and has membership that includes each of the 20 cities and the county in San Mateo County. During her time with the organization, Wong helped to form the San Mateo County Express Lanes Joint Powers Authority and the 21 Elements program.
Now retired, Wong’s background allows her to see the big picture; she has experience with transportation, air quality, stormwater runoff, and hazardous waste, among other areas. Wong addressed the problem of Bay Area traffic and how it connects to lack of affordable housing.
“We know that we cannot resolve traffic by itself, and the solution must be connected to
housing and land use patterns. And that’s why we all heard about stories about people driving two hours, commuting two hours to their jobs and from living far away where they find more affordable housing—sort of more affordable,” she said. “That’s when the 21 Elements project came into the picture.”
21 Elements is an ongoing joint collaboration of C/CAG, the San Mateo County Housing Department and of all 21 San Mateo County Jurisdictions, with the goal of helping jurisdictions to adopt and implement local housing policies and programs.
Robert Nesbit, City Manager for the City of Half Moon Bay, oversees the city’s day-to-day operations, including the planning and economic development department. While major successes took place in 2004 with Leslie Gardens and in 2012 and 2014 with Half Moon Village Phases 1 and 2, and a transitional homeless facility was added in 2021, Nesbitt said the city is overdue for additional units.
He spoke about Half Moon Bay’s long-term planning efforts, which over the last seven years have been compiled in the Local Coastal Plan. The plan sets the stage for adding 480 additional housing units and includes up-zoning in certain areas in order to concentrate housing.
“The beauty of our seven-year effort with our local coastal plan update is that we have set the stage to do this,” he said. “Our housing element preparation will not be a dogfight. We have plenty of opportunities to show the 480 units, and I think that’ll be a pretty smooth process for us.”
Nesbit recommended two books on housing: “Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America” by Conor Dougherty and “The Affordable City: Strategies for Putting Housing Within Reach (and Keeping it There)” by Shane Phillips.
State Senator Dave Cortese
State Senator Dave Cortese gave a view into his outlook for 2022 and an anticipated flurry of legislation. As a member of the State Senate Housing Committee, he anticipated collaboration with Committee Chair Sen. Scott Weiner.
Addressing the housing supply, Cortese had an optimistic outlook with a focus on finances.
“One of the things that we realize is that as supply continues to be tightened as the price of housing continues to skyrocket, we need to focus on financing and tax credits and the kind of things that make projects pencil out. It’s not as if there’s suddenly a lack of appetite out there for developing or building housing, whether on the nonprofit side of the for profit side. But state tax credits are way oversubscribed. People are in line for those and can’t get the ones they need.”
Cortese added that tools like tax-exempt bond financing were available in the past but are no longer an option. He also mentioned SB 791, a bill he sponsored that was part of last year’s 31-bill overall housing package and that creates a technical assistance unit within the California Department of Housing and Community Development to facilitate the development of affordable housing.
In closing, Sen. Cortese gave some words of thanks and encouragement for those working hard to solve the housing crisis in the Bay Area.
“Thank you for all the work you’re doing. Don’t give up, because there are a lot of people waiting for us to produce,” he said.
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