Rick’s Semi-Annual Letter to Atherton Residents

This is my semi-annual letter to Atherton residents to update you on the critical issues before the City Council. After Atherton opened the new Town Center earlier this year, the largest issue before the City Council has been how to comply with state housing requirements. This letter principally addresses those housing issues. Atherton also has an election because four candidates are running for three seats. My re-election letter is attached to this email here. If you would like to read my areas of focus in this election, please open the letter. Also, attached here is a form that I encourage you to fill out if you would like to support my re-election; however, this letter is not principally about elections, it is principally intended to keep you informed about what I believe to be the biggest issues before the council. Accordingly, the focus is on housing:

Housing and Affordable Housing in Atherton

Atherton, like every other municipality in California, is required to comply with the Housing Element requirements under the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), as administered by the state Housing and Community Development Department (HCD). Over the past 4-5 years, the state legislature has passed bills to require an increase in housing, based on the theory that an increased supply will reduce the cost and improve the affordability of housing in California. The RHNA guidelines are supposed to increase supply and affordability, but to date they have largely benefited developers at the expense of local control (by city councils) and affordability has not improved.

In the last housing cycle administered by HCD (2015-2023), Atherton was obligated to zone for 94 new housing units. In the new housing cycle (beginning January 31, 2023), Atherton is obligated to zone for and see built 348 new housing units (an increase of 375%). Atherton objected to this significant increase because, unlike many other cities and towns, Atherton has no undeveloped property on which to build, other our only park (Holbrook-Palmer Park) and adding housing to our park would remove the only recreational resource in Atherton.

Atherton’s outsourced planning group initially insisted that to comply with the 348 RNHA housing requirement, that the city council must zone for denser development than is currently allowed. The planning group recommended that the city council add “Overlay Zoning” to authorize property owners to build 6-20 townhouses per acre on specifically identified lots in Atherton (generally on busier streets and near the periphery of Town). After initial consideration, the Council decided against this suggested density increase because we realized that with property costing approximately $8M per acre, no matter how dense the allowed development, the housing that would be built would never be able to be affordable if the developer had to purchase the land. Further, we heard from several hundred residents that they didn’t want townhouse development in Atherton. In general, Atherton residents have spent dearly to buy into a community that is semi-rural, quiet and not crowded.

I believe that the ONLY place that townhouses can reasonably be in Atherton to yield affordable housing is on existing school property. Because land is so expensive in our Town, affordable housing can only be built by the existing landowner and the ONLY realistic location for that housing to be built is on current school property. This is not a small matter in Atherton because we have seven schools in Town and on every school day Atherton’s population just about doubles with the influx of students and school staff. Accordingly, there is an enormous need at each of these schools for affordable housing for their teachers and staff.

Based on this strategic understanding that the only realistic affordable housing in Atherton must be built without a required purchase of new land, the Town’s recently submitted Housing Element to HCD relies on a strategy to (1) enable and incentivize schools to build townhouses on their land for their teachers and staff and (2) encourage residents to build and rent ADUs (accessory dwelling units) on their property. The incentives for residents to build new ADUs (and to qualify existing pool or guest houses as ADUs) are (1) the square footage of any ADU (separate from the main house) or JADU (within the main house) is excluded from the maximum allowable square footage on the property and (2) if we get sufficient interest to build ADUs, then we should be able to avoid a requirement to approve denser development.

Over the next few months, the city council and Town staff will design a comprehensive program to incentivize residents to build ADUs to satisfy the bulk of our RHNA housing obligation and we will be asking residents to confirm that they are interested in building these ADUs (or converting pool or guest houses to qualify as ADUs). This will need to be a very robust program to satisfy HCD that Atherton will build sufficient ADUs to satisfy a large part of our RHNA housing obligation. Staff will also be working with the schools to encourage and incentivize them to build housing for teachers and staff on their land.

Please send me your thoughts.  I respond to every email that I receive from an Atherton resident.  Please note that there will be public meeting on the Housing Element at 6 pm on Tuesday, October 11th.  

Warm regards,

Rick DeGolia



Atherton Update 2019: Burglaries and the new Town Center

Atherton’s current City Council members: Bill Widmer, Mike Lempres, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Lewis, Mayor Rick DeGolia and Cary Wiest
Dear Friends and Neighbors:

This is my periodic letter summarizing major issues (as I see them) before the City Council. I have been honored to represent you on the Atherton Council since 2013. Please​ feel free to forward this to other residents. I encourage you to share your reactions and opinions with me on any Atherton issue. I respond to every​ email that I receive from Atherton residents. 

Atherton Town Center 
As you no doubt are aware, Atherton’s complete rebuild of our library, police station and administrative offices is the largest project that Atherton has ever undertaken by an order of magnitude. This completely redesigned and rebuilt parcel near the train station will replace outdated buildings, temporary trailers and a large parking lot with a modern buildings and a park-like town center to help our staff better serve our residents and enable the Town to hire and retain top quality employees. Utilities have been laid and new foundations are nearly complete for both the library and the admin/police facilities. The Historic Town Hall has been gutted (90 years old and no termites) and interior work will proceed throughout this winter. Over the next year, you will see these buildings framed and the new site configuration defined. The project is on time and on budget. The new buildings are scheduled to open in late 2021.

This construction is funded with current and limited future general funds. The short term future funding will be financed through a lease arrangement called Certificates of Participation; however, the Council has agreed to enable a donor who makes a 100% tax deductible donation of at least $5m to the project to name the new street that will run past these buildings and connect Fair Oaks Lane and Ashfield Road.  If we obtain this $5m donation, we will not need any Certificates of Participation.

In addition to naming rights for the new street, residents are encouraged to review many other naming opportunities associated with this major project, which will be described in a December issue of the Athertonian. If you are interested in considering naming the new street or any other naming opportunity, please contact me or George Rodericks at (650) 752-0504.

Finally, the Town Center will not be connected to any natural gas meters. All of the Town Center’s power is expected to come from solar panels pursuant to a power purchase arrangement to be considered by the Council next year. In addition to providing day-to-day power, these panels and batteries will serve as back up and reserve power in the event of a power shut off and they will keep our critical facilities in operation. From the beginning, I have been a strong advocate for this center to be the first Zero Net Energy civic center in California. It still has the opportunity to be that.

Home Burglaries and Safety

Last winter, Atherton experienced 20 home burglaries between November and February. The burglars all followed a similar pattern: breaking into a window or glass door in the back of a house (usually on the second story) and ransacking the master bedroom and closet, looking for cash and jewelry. Atherton’s police force has been been very focused on breaking the ring responsible for these crimes and so far this year they have not returned. APD is using sophisticated technology, including automated license plate readers, to defeat the criminals. The Council is focused on protecting our neighborhoods while providing civil liberty protections by insuring that only necessary information is collected and that all information is very protected.

Congestion, State Housing Mandates and our Quality of Life

As many of know, in the last state legislative session a bill, SB 50, would have authorized 4-5 story multi-unit housing complexes on any property within a half mile of any train or BART station and within a “jobs rich area.” This bill would have overridden local zoning and, to add insult to injury, it would have authorized this housing with zero requirement for parking. Now, that might work in an urban area, but it definitely doesn’t work in Atherton or for many suburban communities where every family has at least one car and almost all the housing is single family houses. The Council is committed to fighting this or any similar bill. It remains a major issue for us over the next year.  

I wish you a wonderful, safe holiday season. If there are any issues that you are concerned with that impact Atherton or your neighborhood, please contact me.

Thanks for listening. If you are interested in participating on the Atherton Parks and Recreation Committee (focused on Holbrook-Palmer Park), the Environmental Programs Committee or the Atherton Bike-Ped Committee, please let me know.
Rick DeGolia
Atherton City Council

December Letter to Atherton Residents on City Council Issues

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