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Atherton council condemns state bills that override local zoning

Atherton town hall. The City Council passed a resolution opposing legislation that could affect housing development in town. File photo by Michelle Le

The Atherton City Council voted 5-0 in favor of a resolution on Wednesday, Nov. 4, condemning potential legislation that could put California cities and towns on the hook to allow more housing to be built in their communities.

Council members vocally opposed Senate Bill 50, proposed legislation introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, which would have relaxed zoning standards for residential developments along transportation corridors. The bill failed to pass the state Senate in January.

The declaration states "the town of Atherton is opposed to the current practice of the legislature of the state of California of continually proposing and passing multitudes of bills that directly impact and interfere with the ability of cities to control their own destiny through use of the zoning authority that has been granted to them."

"Each community knows what's best to determine how to meet housing goals within their local communities," said Vice Mayor Elizabeth Lewis. "For Atherton we have to take a really strong position for this. Legislation (like SB 50) doesn't take into consideration topography or open land space."

State legislators have indicated they will continue to introduce legislation that will override local zoning ordinances for the development of affordable housing in conjunction with mixed use and/or luxury condominium and apartment housing, according to a report prepared by town staff.

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Council member Bill Widmer said he doesn't like the state mandating what communities will look like.

"We should be able to determine our own fate," he said. "We should be able to manage our own destiny and keep the character of our town. ... A developer not living here might come in and decide 'This is what I'm going to build here and override what we do.'"

Widmer cautioned against the resolution going so far as to leave room for a lawsuit against the town.

The resolution is modeled after one passed in Beverly Hills in 2018.

The Atherton resolution also vows town officials will explore ways to protect the ability of cities to retain local control over zoning as each individual city within the state is best suited to determine how the zoning in their city should be allocated in order to meet the housing needs of the community.

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Atherton council condemns state bills that override local zoning

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Nov 6, 2020, 2:21 pm

The Atherton City Council voted 5-0 in favor of a resolution on Wednesday, Nov. 4, condemning potential legislation that could put California cities and towns on the hook to allow more housing to be built in their communities.

Council members vocally opposed Senate Bill 50, proposed legislation introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, which would have relaxed zoning standards for residential developments along transportation corridors. The bill failed to pass the state Senate in January.

The declaration states "the town of Atherton is opposed to the current practice of the legislature of the state of California of continually proposing and passing multitudes of bills that directly impact and interfere with the ability of cities to control their own destiny through use of the zoning authority that has been granted to them."

"Each community knows what's best to determine how to meet housing goals within their local communities," said Vice Mayor Elizabeth Lewis. "For Atherton we have to take a really strong position for this. Legislation (like SB 50) doesn't take into consideration topography or open land space."

State legislators have indicated they will continue to introduce legislation that will override local zoning ordinances for the development of affordable housing in conjunction with mixed use and/or luxury condominium and apartment housing, according to a report prepared by town staff.

Council member Bill Widmer said he doesn't like the state mandating what communities will look like.

"We should be able to determine our own fate," he said. "We should be able to manage our own destiny and keep the character of our town. ... A developer not living here might come in and decide 'This is what I'm going to build here and override what we do.'"

Widmer cautioned against the resolution going so far as to leave room for a lawsuit against the town.

The resolution is modeled after one passed in Beverly Hills in 2018.

The Atherton resolution also vows town officials will explore ways to protect the ability of cities to retain local control over zoning as each individual city within the state is best suited to determine how the zoning in their city should be allocated in order to meet the housing needs of the community.

Comments

Anon Ymous
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Nov 7, 2020 at 11:29 pm
Anon Ymous, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Nov 7, 2020 at 11:29 pm

Interesting that closing the Caltrain station helps remove some influence of SB 50 or similar laws. If you don’t want to be required to build housing near transit, just remove the transit.


David B
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Nov 9, 2020 at 12:31 pm
David B, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Nov 9, 2020 at 12:31 pm

All the "we want local control of the character of our town" protests reek of "we want states' rights to control the racial and social policies of our state". It's always just code words for "don't make us live next to people we don't want to live next to". I hate it.


Robert Cronin
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 9, 2020 at 1:46 pm
Robert Cronin, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Nov 9, 2020 at 1:46 pm

If the special folks in Atherton don't want to accept their responsibility to allow housing for all, then they should pay a fine. A big one. They can afford it.


Tecsi
Registered user
another community
on Nov 11, 2020 at 1:09 pm
Tecsi, another community
Registered user
on Nov 11, 2020 at 1:09 pm

Atherton should join with other peninsula cities to make their case en masse. It is much more powerful when 5-10-20 cities join together, and puts pressure on the state to consider their wishes.


Neighbor
Registered user
Portola Valley: other
on Nov 11, 2020 at 1:13 pm
Neighbor, Portola Valley: other
Registered user
on Nov 11, 2020 at 1:13 pm

I do think towns should have control over what kind of development is done in their community. This has nothing to do with race and everything to do with maintaining open space. I also think it's important to make sure that people who are not of the same fortunate means as some of us, are still able to live in our towns. The two things are not mutually exclusive---and a forward-thinking town can plan for this, creating smaller homes that are more affordable, but not "packing them in" onto tiny lots or in undesirable areas, if there are any. Don't build it if you wouldn't want to live there after downsizing.


Tecsi
Registered user
another community
on Nov 11, 2020 at 1:16 pm
Tecsi, another community
Registered user
on Nov 11, 2020 at 1:16 pm

Responding to comments from David and Robert:
- David, this is not a race issue, but I rather a reasonable right for communities to establish building codes they want mutually agree to.
- Robert, if no city wants to more housing, isn’t that the will of the people? Each city can determine whether it’s in their interest or no. Some may welcome the increased property and sales taxes, while others might prefer to forego these.


David B
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Nov 11, 2020 at 1:56 pm
David B, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Nov 11, 2020 at 1:56 pm

@Tecsi - I didn't say this specific case is a race issue, I just said it's the same mindset. I get that people want to dig in and defend their "way of life" in the face of change, but while "way of life" might be defined as big lots and no multi-family homes in Atherton, it's been used to exclude races/religions/genders elsewhere (and probably here too).

I think we all need to be very cautious, and very understanding of the unstated impact, when hiding behind "the character of our community".


Tecsi
Registered user
another community
on Nov 12, 2020 at 9:57 am
Tecsi, another community
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2020 at 9:57 am

@David B – good point about the caution. I think where we are concerned about discrimination (race, religion, gender), we have laws to safeguard against that.
There are 2 issues that I see in this particular discussion: density and affordability.
With regards to density, I don’t want to suddenly see 3-story condo buildings on each side of me. That seems fair. Isn’t that’s why we have zoning?
Affordability: the only way I see we can address this is subsidies for local workers. Maybe this is how public housing in NYC got started.
Now the state also wants to legislate density and affordability, in addition to race, religion, gender. To me, this feels like overreach.


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