SPEED UP AND BUILD UPApr 16, 2018 10:15AM ● By Pam Kessler
Almost every city and county in California is being forced to streamline rules to approve new housing following the passage of legislation last year, according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Every eight years, local governments receive targets from the state for new housing production in an effort to keep pace with population growth. But those targets have long been ignored with little consequence even as the state’s housing shortage has fueled record-high costs. Walnut Creek residents can expect to see height and density increases—superseding Measure A—in Walnut Creek within 1.5 miles of mass transit.
Passed as part of a housing bill package in 2017, SB-35 requires cities that have fallen behind on their housing goals to make it easier to permit new construction. Under the bill, cities and counties must approve housing projects without delay if the proposals match a city’s underlying zoning rules and facilitate development near mass transit. If a developer provides a certain percentage (10%) of affordable housing units as part of a residential or multi-use project, the developer is entitled to increase density and height on the site, as well as a reduction in parking requirements to .05 per unit, to offset the loss in revenue from including affordable units. Notably, these projects are not subject to the same city review and approval processes.
Currently under review in the State Legislature, SB-827 would allow eight-story buildings near major transit stops, even if local communities object. The idea is to foster taller, more compact residential communities within a half-mile of mass transit hubs, to add housing stock, and wean people from their cars and long commutes.
According to the New York Times, Urban Footprint, a software platform that maps neighborhoods, ran the numbers on the impact of SB-827 at three East Bay BART Stations: MacArthur, Rockridge, and Orinda. Under SB-827, near the MacArthur station, the number of new housing units could increase from 4,447 units today to 27,156. In Rockridge, it could go from 4,096 to 25,500, and in Orinda from 731 to 12,090.
In communities with high land values, like Walnut Creek, developers are expected to take advantage of the Density Bonus Law. On the books for years, it recently came into focus with a proposal for redevelopment of the Fuddrucker’s restaurant site. Blake Griggs Properties, LLC, submitted an application to the city to construct a six-story, mixed-use building on the 0.998 property consisting of 135 residential units, including 11% very low-income affordable housing units, plus 7,000-square-feet of ground floor commercial space. A re-imagined Fuddrucker’s burger and beer bar is part of the project.
According to the WC Community and Economic Development Department, very low income is a household that earns 50% of area median income. Rent is considered affordable to a very low-income household when the total housing cost (which includes rent and utilities) does not exceed 30% of 50% of area median Income, adjusted for household size. So if a one bedroom apartment in Walnut Creek goes for $2900 monthly, qualified tenants pay $1000 in rent, which includes utilities.