Los Altos City Council Meetings September 2017

September 12, 2017

The City Council was asked to introduce and waive further reading of the Density Bonus Regulations ordinance and adopt the local density bonus regulations developed by the Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC) – currently 38 units/acre. The ordinance gives incentives to developers to build more affordable housing. The applications can be rejected because of 1) specific, adverse impact on public health and safety on the physical environment, 2) contrary to state or federal laws, or 3) don’t result in actual cost reductions to provide affordable housing or rent.

Even though, of the twelve public comments, ten supported the density bonus regulations, the council vote split 2-2 on the ordinance decision because council member Jean Mordo was absent. Chris Jordan, City Manager, said to carry forward the decision to the next meeting, Jean Mordo could cast a vote to break the tie. Deliberation was carried forward to September 26, 2017.

In addition, the council introduced further readings to the ordinance that pertains to the Commercial Thoroughfare (CT) zone district. Previously, PTC had recommended and the council had enacted a moratorium on the CT zone running along El Camino Real until November 14, 2017. Decisions must be made by then or the plans go back to the PTC.

Many amendments are reflected in the PTC design – among them access and screening of refuse collection, setback requirements, and height limit modifications. Decision on the CT zoning ordinance was diverted by debate on housing height limits, 30 or 45 feet was preferable, although 45 to 47 feet are in the plan. Chris Diaz, new City Attorney, warned that setting limits at 30 feet would initiate trouble from the state Housing and Community Development department (HCD). The council decided to hold deliberation over until September 26 meeting.

September 26, 2017

City Council raised the Density Bonus Regulations. Council member Jean Mordo, absent at previous meeting, is comfortable with including the pre-approved menu of items that are part of the development applicant’s design choices – then, the possibilities are known exactly. Two public comments agreed with Mordo, but one person suggested that putting affordable housing downtown may not benefit retail and restaurants. The council should keep the economy in mind when making decisions. After much discussion over details of the document, the suggestions by council members Jeannie Bruins, Jan Pepper, and Lynette Lee Eng were added to the document and a second reading will be adopted on October 10, 2017.

Ten public comments were heard on the ordinance for Commercial Thoroughfare zone district which must be decided by November 2017. The ordinance is difficult and complicated, and most comments addressed problems with the items that must be included for the ordinance to be accepted by the state’s housing element law. Council members debated the item about height limits and mechanical parking, whether to challenge the items that the council doesn’t like, and whether to have an outside study to further understand the conflicts in the ordinance. Since the first ordinance took over one year to finalize, the city would not meet the time limit by further study, and the entire project would have to start again. Jon Biggs, Community Development Director, suggested that the staff could show the council what a project would look like, including parking and driveways, to alleviate concerns. Again, possible changes to the wording were suggested and a second reading and possible adoption would be held over to October 10.

— Claire Noonan, Observer