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Sebastopol’s planning director presented the city’s expected Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) number for the upcoming eight-year cycle of housing development, extracted from what she described as “the sausage-making process” at the Feb. 16 city council meeting.

Planning Director Kari Svanstrom said the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) assigns each regional government a goal for how many housing units they must plan to make available for all income levels every eight years, known as a Regional Housing Needs Determination.

“It’s a big number for the Bay Area,” she said. According to Svanstrom, the Bay Area tentatively has 441,176 housing units to come up with between 2023 to 2031, to be exact.

It’s up to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to divvy up the number across cities, towns and the region’s nine counties according to an approach determined by the Housing Methodology Committee (HMC), which includes elected officials and planning staff from those local governments, she said.

Svanstrom said the numbers won’t be final until December 2021, but as of January, the ABAG Executive Board approved the final draft methodology that gave Sebastopol a drafted quota of 213 housing units.

The affordability levels range from very low income, or up to 50% area median income (AMI), low income up to 80% AMI, moderate income reaching up to 120% AMI and above-moderate income, or “regular market-rate housing,” the agenda report said.

Usually cities don’t actually build housing, the planning director said. But according to the agenda report, “each local government must zone enough of its land to ensure that sufficient housing can be built to accommodate their housing need, based on their RHNA numbers.”

The report said cities prepare for their people’s housing needs as required by the state with their RHNA allocation and their General Plan’s Housing Element. Local jurisdictions need state-certified Housing Elements for the majority of state-funded housing and community programs, but they won’t get that approval unless they have enough land that can be zoned for high-density housing, the agenda report said.

Svanstrom clarified at Councilmember Diana Rich’s request that Sebastopol and other communities aren’t required to build the housing, but to zone land as needed to make the land available for those allocated units. The planning director said the city probably wouldn’t need to do much rezoning since so much occurred in 2018.

Local planning directors and staff catch data inaccuracies

Sebastopol’s quota could’ve been almost twice as high if Svanstrom and others in a housing ad hoc committee hadn’t called attention to mistakes in ABAG’s projections, like marking local floodplains for high-density housing and parcels in the Laguna de Santa Rosa conservation area for development, according to the planning director.

She said ABAG had used a population projection model from Plan Bay Area 2050, its renewed regional plan, to calculate the earlier draft allocation numbers with HMC’s methodology, recommended to the ABAG Executive Board in October 2020.

“The original allocation had hit the rural counties as well as rural towns very, very heavily. Whereas ABAG had a 135% increase in the RHNA number from last cycle to this cycle, the unincorporated areas of Napa, Sonoma, Solano counties were being hit with somewhere between 340% and 900% increases,” Svanstrom said.

According to the agenda report, areas of the North Bay were to expect high allocations “that push growth outside of city limits and into areas without utilities or other services,” despite urban growth boundaries made to avoid sprawl and meet state climate action goals.

Svanstrom and most of the planning directors, community development directors and SCTA planning staff thought, “This is going to produce sprawl, traffic, greenhouse gas and a lot of other environmental issues,” she said.

While a somewhat vague relationship between housing and jobs was one of HMC’s guiding principles to come up with a method for issuing local quotas, Svanstrom said ABAG seemed to miss how access to transit plays a role.

The council agenda report said the Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) hosted the ad hoc committee of county planning directors and staff that sent a letter to ABAG about these issues.

Svanstrom said ABAG eventually agreed to their request for access to data factoring into the projections so they could give feedback and the regional government adjusted accordingly.

The agenda report said ABAG staff put the finishing touches on Plan Bay Area 2050 between December and January and also in January, the ABAG Executive Board approved the recommended methodology with an equity adjustment.

Sebastopol was slated to have around 410 units to plan for, a roughly 240% increase from the 120 allocated for the eight-year cycle spanning from 2015 to 2023, Svanstrom said. It’s a 77% increase for the city now that its anticipated allocation is 213 units, according to the planning director.

“It’s still big, but it is much more doable for a community our size. It’s within what our growth management ordinance allows. So was 410, but that was basically all 30 years of our growth management ordinance, not just the eight years,” she said. “So, much more realistic.”

The planning director said she anticipates Sebastopol will reach its housing goals and could even surpass three affordability categories.

“The only one we actually may not fully meet is the market-rate,” she said.

Mayor Una Glass smiled. “We are really weird,” she said. Glass said Sebastopol has one of the area’s lowest average incomes. “And I think the reason for that is we have built more subsidized housing probably, per capita, than any of the other cities,” she said.

Glass said providing housing for working people is a good thing, but wanted to know if the city would be allowed to transfer any extra units it planned for in one housing cycle towards the next cycle’s allocation target. Svanstrom said that would be in the hands of state lawmakers.

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