In the case of Pleasanton we can now see an actual instance where the displeasure of Sacramento in this regard led to a crushing defeat in Court, with one of the major parties in this state initiated lawsuit being led by no less an august personality than Jerry Brown, California State Attorney General. It is obvious that with the personal involvement of the top legal officer in the state, Sacramento takes this all very seriously.
Something called the Transbay Blog, which is notably unsympathetic to the wishes of communities such as Pleasanton, gives a pretty thorough description of the process that led to Jerry Brown taking this city on over its voter approved initiative limiting housing there.
Jerry Brown to Pleasanton: Housing and Climate Change Are Connected - So what happens when, despite the state's requirement, a city tries to shrug off its obligation to accommodate its fair share of housing growth? Then, the state must step in -like it did yesterday, when Attorney General Jerry Brown finally took action against the City of Pleasanton's housing cap. In 1996, Pleasanton adopted Measure GG, which instituted a housing cap - no more that 29,000 units could be built within the city. Since 2006, the City had already faced lawsuits because of this provision, and in January 2009, Jerry Brown submitted comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) of Pleasanton's General Plan update. In his comments, Brown indicated quite unambiguously that the housing cap was problematic. Now, in just a dozen pages, Brown clarifies how the Pleasanton cap violates state housing law. It basically comes down to the numbers. ABAG's projections require the City accommodate 3,277 housing units by the year 2014. But the City is only 2,007 units short of reaching the housing cap of 29,000 units. With the cap in place, not even those 3,277 units could not be built - to say nothing of the units that ABAG projections would call for after 2014. And, in fact, the City even still has to come up with missing housing units from the last RHNA planning period, which ended in 2007.
ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) is a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) similar to our very own SCAG (Southern California Area Governments). When RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) numbers are assigned to cities such as Pleasanton (or Sierra Madre for that matter), it is these MPOs that do all the dirty work. Originally these regional organizations were designed to give voice to the needs of individual cities in regards to area planning, but lately they have come to serve as little more than enforcers for housing policies dictated by the central planning authorities in the state capitol.
Until recently RHNA demands for housing increases had been justified because the MPOs had somehow concluded that California was undergoing massive population increases that would lead to acute housing shortages should cities all over the state not plan for big housing increases. And you can see the results of that blunder locally in places such as Pasadena, Burbank, and Glendale. All cities that are now experiencing large gluts of unsold condominium style development. Obviously the millions of new residents the MPO's crystal balls predicted have not materialized, with the state actually undergoing an exodus of both high paying jobs and the skilled workforce required to do them. So great has this exodus become that there is a possibility, and for the first time in California history, that this state could actually lose a seat in Congress after the current census.
But while policies that proclaimed a need for more housing due to population increases are now inoperative, the pressure on cities to accommodate large new development continues. The reason now is climate change. Apparently this theory has it that we can build our way out of Global Warming, with the agent of our salvation being high density development. Or, to put it into more salvational language, condos that will rescue the world.
Here is how Transbay Blog describes this dynamic in the Pleasanton case:
The Climate Change Connection - What continues to be interesting here is Jerry Brown's consistent emphasis on climate change. In this case, Pleasanton's General Plan just straight-up violates state housing requirements, and the City's housing cap could be invalidated on that basis alone. Indeed, in his formal challenge of the housing cap, Brown focuses on the state's Planning and Zoning Law to make the case. In supplementary materials, however, Brown has embraced a policy discussion that goes beyond simply pointing out the literal legal problem. In his Jaunuary 2009 comments on the General Plan DEIR, he criticizes the City for not adequately considering climate change impacts of the Plan. This is an environmental issue, not a housing issue. More recently, Brown explicitly tied the housing cap to its effect on travel patterns and air quality - adding his voice to the chorus chanting about how focused growth and smart land use patterns are a critical component of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Different rationale, same requirement. Or, as the acronymically conversant like to put it, "You Build Or We Sue (UBOWS)." Next time somebody calls you a NIMBY, try using that one on 'em.
Bonus Coverage: Here is a copy of the letter California Attorney General Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. sent to Brian Dolan, Planning Director for the City of Pleasanton:
RE: Shaping Local Land Use Patterns to Meet the Requirements of AB 32
Dear Planning Director Dolan:
In response to the many questions we receive from local agencies like yours, the Attorney General's Office has compiled the attached document, "Climate Change, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and General Plan Updates: Straightforward Answers to Some Frequently Asked Questions." To ensure that all local governments have access to the most up-to-date information, we are sending these materials to cities and counties that are in the process of updating their general plans and, in addition, to those jurisdictions that are due for an update.
The general planning process presents a powerful opportunity to carefully consider and shape future land use patterns and ensure that development is consistent with AB 32. As the Air Resources Board noted in its recent AB 32 Scoping Plan, "local governments are essential partners in achieving California's goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
Attorney's in my office have commented on a significant number of general plan updates over the past two years. They have also met informally with planners and officials from numerous jurisdictions. It is clear to us that local agencies are attempting to address global warming in their general plan updates and accompanying CEQA documents and are taking on the the challenging scientific, technical, and policy issues presented.
The letter goes on with some of the usual boilerplate, but you can see how global warming, and not population increases, have become the rationale behind Sacramento's latest series of demands for high density housing increases throughout the state.
Which begs the question - while obviously car emissions can be a problem, wouldn't the kinds of increases in housing called for by Sacramento only exacerbate the problem rather than alleviating it? After all, electricity production is as much a contributer of greenhouse gases as cars, if not more. And areas of high density settlement also contribute significantly to the problem. Then there is the related problems regarding water supply.
It would seem to me that if the state was genuinely concerned with reducing greenhouse gas emissions solar/wind technologies, electric auto technologies, and improved energy efficiency along with conservation, would be the way to go. Rather than just building vast amounts of mediocre and generic new housing in the hopes that it will somehow cause people to take public transportation.
Besides, if you settle a lot of people by public transportation sites, is there really any guarantee that they will somehow wish to abandon their automobiles and take the bus? Seems like magical thinking to me. A lot of people, upon being given a place to live that can be described as "low income," might actually wish to take those savings and invest in something they have always wanted.
Which in the case of most Californians would be a new car.