May 2022 Housing Update

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

This is my periodic personal letter to Atherton residents on issues that I view as important to Atherton. I send this to solicit your views. I respond to every response that I get. The principal subject of this letter is HOUSING and how state housing mandates will impact Atherton.

The Background on Housing

You may have read about the state housing mandates that are being applied to every municipality in CA. The State Housing Department (HCD) has been authorized to require every city in CA to increase its new housing (2023-2031) by approximately 400% of what was required in the last eight-year cycle (2015-2023). For Atherton, over the next few months, we are required to authorize (and demonstrate a likelihood to build) 348 new housing units that will be built between 2023 and 2031.

Atherton is currently zoned only for single family homes (except for school, Town and Circus Club property). Most of this new HCD requirement will be satisfied by alternative dwelling units (ADUs) to be built in our backyards. Our planning consultants estimate that HCD will not accept more than 35 new ADUs a year in Atherton. That gets us 80% of the requirement. When we add potential lot splits and staff housing that could be built at schools (only one of which has indicated an interest), we get within 10% of the requirement. The Planning group is recommending that the Council not remove any of our single-family zoning, but that we add the ability of a few property owners to build townhomes on their properties at a density of up to 10 units per acre. This is called Overlay Zoning because those properties would be authorized to build EITHER a single-family home and an ADU or townhomes on their lot.

Initially, the Atherton Council considered the recommended overlay zoning only on a property on Oakwood Aveue that is literally adjoining Redwood City, on five properties on Bay Road that face smaller Menlo Park lots across the street, and on a few properties on Marsh Road approaching Middlefield Road. After the last council discussion, the Town organized a community meeting in Holbrook-Palmer Park at which several residents expressed interest in townhomes that could enable seniors or other Atherton residents to downsize and remain in Atherton without having the property management responsibilities that they currently have. This is consistent with the Planning recommendation and would be limited to fewer than 10 properties, but this is still a significant zoning change for Atherton.

At the HPP public meeting there were also some who advocated that Atherton refuse to cooperate with the state mandates and agree to pay the considerable fines. The problem is that non-compliance doesn’t only incur substantial fines, it also involves the state taking over local zoning. Opposing the state mandates may be a good long-term solution. I believe that these mandates will be changed in the future, but that won’t address the short-term requirements that we have for this year. In my opinion, the last thing that Atherton residents need is for Atherton to become a target for those who would go to great lengths to assert far more undesirable zoning than we would approve ourselves. I do think that because of the number of ADUs being built that Atherton can satisfy the current requirement without much disruption. My real concern is where these state mandates could go in the future.

It is important for those you with opinions on this subject to share your opinions with members of the Council. We have spent an enormous amount of time on this issue and we want to get it right. Your perspective is extremely important, so please share your thoughts.

Thank you for listening.

Rick DeGolia