There is a considerable amount of unease and confusion among Los Gatos residents about the town’s plans for housing in the future. It saddens me that the town has not done a good job in communicating to the public what decisions need to be made and for what purpose. It has allowed some individuals to cherry pick numbers out of context to generate fear and anxiety. This is not good government.
Every municipality in California is required by the State to produce a Housing Element every eight years that identifies how that jurisdiction will meet its obligation in identifying a certain number of POTENTIAL SITES for new housing. That number is based on formula that calculates the number for each jurisdiction. The jurisdiction is not expected to build the housing – only to have identified locations where private developers might want to build market rate homes or affordable housing that would be attainable for medium and low-income families and individuals.
I have consistently expressed to the Town Council and town staff that I thought it was a mistake to combine the mandated eight-year Housing Element (effective 2023-2031), with the proposed 20-year General Plan (2040 General Plan). It made the housing issue more complex, more confusing and more alarming than it needed to be. Why try to anticipate what the State mandate for our next Housing Elements might be? There is no purpose or benefit in doing this.
The number of potential housing unit sites the State has mandated for the Town of Los Gatos for the next eight years is 1,993 (known as the RHNA number). It has been recommended that we also add a buffer of approximately 15% to the RHNA number because the State may deem some of the potential sites not realistic. Again, these are potential sites only and, based on past experience, identify far more than will actually be built. In the 2014 Housing Element, for example, the mandate was to identify 619 potential sites. In actuality, slightly over 200 of those potential housing units were built.
Another part of the Housing Element to understand is that it is an independent element of our Town’s General Plan. Under State law, the Housing Element must be consistent with other General Plan elements. So, the Housing Element and the General Plan are interwoven. In our case, in order to identify potential housing sites, the Town will need to make some zoning changes that allow residential projects on land previously zoned for commercial use only. At the same time, to meet RHNA numbers, certain residential zoning changes need to happen. Recently, the Town Council decided to make changes to residential zoning to allow more multi-family housing projects. As a result, if every parcel of land in Los Gatos was built out to the maximum allowed by revised zoning then, on paper, it is technically true that our housing stock could increase by 12,000 units over the next 20 years.
What is the likelihood of that happening? Zero. To toss this number around out of context and get the public riled up about something that is never going to happen is irresponsible.
If I were a member of Town Council, I would vote to make whatever zoning changes are necessary to meet the minimum number of potential housing sites required by the State for the eight-year Housing Element. When our Housing Element for the next eight years has been accepted by the State, we can turn our attention to what has been recommended by the General Plan Committee for the future into 2040. There is no reason to go beyond the 1,993 number (plus recommended 15% buffer) at this time.
I have been a member of previous Housing Element and General Plan Committees and I am on record as a proponent of managing our growth very carefully. We need to respect our past, maintain the charm of our small town and its many and varied different neighborhoods, value our historic downtown, while at the same time we prepare for our future. In that regard, I have stated that I am in favor of meeting a portion of our housing numbers through mixed use housing. For example, the new Whole Foods that is planned for the corner of Los Gatos Blvd and Los Gatos Almaden Road could have potential for a level or two of housing above the grocery store, with underground parking similar to the Safeway in downtown Los Gatos. The location has public transit and is walkable to other retail outlets like a drugstore, coffee shops, and restaurants. I do not know if that site is large enough for this to work, but similar commercial sites may be able to accommodate mixed use and add to our housing stock a few homes at a time in different parts of our town.
The State continues to pass laws that encourage – through carrots and sticks – the construction of more housing. Some state laws now apply to Los Gatos, such as SB9 that makes it easier to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs or “granny flats). Others, like AB2011 and SB6 passed at the end of September could apply to us in the future. AB2011 and SB6 cover low-income housing along public transit corridors and eliminate the need for parking. These laws do not apply to Los Gatos (yet) because they require a frequency of public transit (bus, light rail, train) that we don’t have in Los Gatos.
There will be change in Los Gatos, but the Town Council has the authority and responsibility to make sure that the change is appropriate for our community, reflecting our values and making the best use of our assets. I am knowledgeable about these issues and have proactively participated in previous years on town committees that addressed both the Housing Element and the General Plan.
I do not believe it is in our town’s best interest to rile up people with misinformation, innuendo, and a combative, oppositional approach to these very important issues. When elected, I intend to focus my energies on listening to our residents and their views, finding solutions to these and other issues that enhance the livability of our Town and make us proud to be residents of Los Gatos. I want Los Gatos to inspire other small towns and cities to resolve their issues, whatever they may be, through collaboration, not negative fear mongering.
POSITION: LOS GATOS FINANCIAL CHALLENGES
I am a glass half-full kind of person. When faced with a difficult challenge in business or in life, my approach is to gather all of the facts, assess the situation, and design a strategy to succeed. It serves no purpose, in my opinion, to focus on the worst possible outcome and make rash decisions that could, inadvertently, increase the likelihood of the result no one wants to happen.
Long term forecasts are telling us that Los Gatos has some serious financial threats to its financial stability in the coming years. These projections are doing their job – raising an early warning signal and giving us plenty of time to thoroughly understand all of options for strategic solutions. I am concerned, but optimistic.
Los Gatos is not the first city/town to foresee a structural budget deficit in its future. Other communities have been through this and found effective ways to deal with it. If we take positive action now, we can implement the best practices that others have used to successfully address fluctuating economic issues that could impact our quality of life.
One tactic that I think holds the most promise is to form a Structural Budget Deficit Task Force composed of stakeholders. I believe that over the course of a few months, the Task Force will be able to develop an effective strategy for dealing with the anticipated budget problems. Again, it has been done in other cities and there is no reason why Los Gatos would not be equally as successful.
I firmly believe we must not lose sight that every budget number on a spreadsheet represents a person, place or thing that provides services to our residents and businesses. Adjusting those numbers is not about math, it is making value decisions on what is important to our community and to our quality of life. Conversations about the Town Budget are important because decisions affect our day-to-day life.
Let me be clear…
I support the Los Gatos Monte Sereno Police Department and the responsive, community-focused service it provides to keep us safe and secure. It’s the highest priority for our residents and its funding must be protected.
I support the Los Gatos Library where thousands of our residents come each month to learn, create, contemplate and connect. It is an irreplaceable asset in our town.
I support the often unsung work of our Parks & Public Works Department who keep our playgrounds safe, our storm drains clear, our trails clear, our streets clean, and a 100+ other tasks that we take for granted.
I support re-energizing our Economic Vitality efforts so that we tackle every vacant retail and commercial office space in Los Gatos as an opportunity to fill gaps in the variety of services needed and desired by our residents – and to generate new revenue channels.
I support Measure J, a long overdue increase in business license tax. I hope the voters are able to look past the overly-complicated and confusing wording of the ballot measure to understand its rationale and significance and vote “Yes on Measure J.”
I support the consideration of an increase to sales tax if our residents are open to putting this question to voters in a future election.
Los Gatos has experienced economic traumas in the past that threatened its financial stability. From major disasters like the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 and the still lingering COVID Pandemic… to more minor upheavals like the loss of most car dealerships or the evolution of the Netflix business model from rented DVDs to streaming (both major blows to our sales tax revenue), Los Gatos has been able to survive these challenges, learn from them, and continue to thrive. How? The answer is to do it the Los Gatos way – by listening to many voices in the community, bringing together our best and brightest ideas, and staying committed to the belief that we will find solutions that preserve and protect all that we value in living, working and raising a family in this town.