My voting record on housing related matters has consistently balanced Clayton’s interests and the State’s mandates without jeopardizing Clayton’s fiscal health. Earlier this year, the Council voted on the Olivia project (read more below). I too would have preferred a smaller project for this site, and if all I cared about was re-election to the Council I guess I should have just voted “yes” on that project. However, I was elected to do what is best for Clayton as a whole, which includes the ability to maintain the safety and services all of us enjoy. I voted on Olivia based on the law and facts, and in order to not risk a lawsuit that the City cannot win, and a lawsuit that would financially destroy our budget (and hence the ability to pay for city, police and all other services we pay from our small, approx. $5M annual General Fund budget).
OLIVIA VOTES: There were two decisions at the Council on the Olivia project: 1) CEQA exemption determination, and 2) project approvals. On CEQA, the denial of the exemption would have been merely resulted in a delay, as was confirmed by the City Attorney’s CEQA expert at the hearing given that there was no evidence that would have suggested that the project could cause a significant impact under CEQA. What we as citizens may think of as an impact e.g. on traffic is not necessarily an impact under CEQA, and under CEQA most significant impacts can be reduced to a less than significant level with mitigation measures. Hence, denial of the exemption would have merely delayed the project approvals by 6-12 months, and the City would have still likely had the same project in front of us at a later time.
On project approvals, project denial would have required the Council to make written findings of a specific and adverse impact on public health and safety, findings that the State legislature intended to arise infrequently and are difficult to make. Even if a Councilmember disagreed on the CEQA exemption, voting no on the project approvals without articulation of the necessary findings would have placed the City in a tremendeously risky position in a lawsuit. I asked the Councilmembers who voted “no” to articulate those, but no one did. My vote was consistent with all of the advise from all of the experts and attorneys who were there to advise the City, and based on my own knowledge as a land use attorney as well. The Housing Accountability Act (HAA) has quite a bit of teeth and in the last few years has been increasingly used by developers against cities. Improper denial of a housing project could subject the City to a minimum penalty of $10k per unit (approx. $800k for Olivia), and a maximum of $50k per unit (approx. $4M for Olivia), in addition to attorneys’ fees and costs. If the City improperly denies a project, the Court can order the project approved. The reality is that the myriad of state laws, both on CEQA and housing projects, are increasingly making it more difficult for cities to say no to housing projects. State housing laws and requirements even 5 yrs ago are not the same as they are today. Many cities also have larger budgets and don’t care risking millions in litigation and potential penalties. Our budget is about $5M+, and thus in my opinion we ought to stand on firm legal ground before making decisions that can be fiscally detrimental to the services that our city provides and citizens enjoy.
FISCAL IMPACTS: Clayton leadership has always managed to balance our budgets, and in today’s rough numbers for the General Fund, we have about $5M in income and about $5M in expenditures each year. If we spend our $5M annual income e.g. on litigation (or any lesser or greater amount), we need to look at either cutting our services or increasing our income in order to balance the budget. In terms of annual expenditures, some examples of what we pay annually include e.g. $280k for dispatch services so residents can call 911, $55k in janitorial services to city facilities, $162k on water usage by the city, and $1.9M in salaries to all city employees, including police department. Short of creating additional income to the City (which could be created by increasing taxes subject to voter approval), the only way to balance city budget is to cut expenditures. We also have reserves of approx. $5M. That is essentially our savings account in case something unexpected or catastrophic happens (e.g. some income drops substantially or we incur some unforeseen expenditures). We live in an earthquake area, surrounded by hills susceptible to wildfires, and thus natural disasters are not out of question. Insurance covers some unexpected expenditures but not all. FEMA money is also available for some disasters, but those funds are not always available immediate. We could also use our reserves to pay for lawsuits, but eliminating our reserves is not a good idea for many reasons. At minimum, if we are spending our reserves, lets get something in return. Let’s build a new park, community swimming pool, or anything else that benefits our residents. If we spend it to fight litigation that we are NOT going to win, we not only lose the funds but on a development project litigation losing means that the court can also order the project approved, so we still get the project. That is why if we are about to risk getting into litigation, let’s be sure we are going to be on the winning side.
In terms of other housing related matters, here are examples from my voting record:
PAROLEE HOUSING – I voted in favor of the most restrictive parolee housing ordinance in our county. Anything more than that would have been a de facto ban or an actual ban. Another City had already tried a ban, ended up in litigation which resulted in that city repealing its ban, spending monies on litigation, and allowing parolee housing. We had two organizations that had indicated that they would challenge Clayton’s ban on parolee housing, if one was adopted. The parolee housing ordinance has now been effective for approx. 2 yrs, and per the ordinance requires an application, notice to residents, and discretionary hearings at the Planning Commission. Since the ordinance was adopted, Clayton has had ZERO parolee homes, and ZERO applications.
POSITIONS ON STATE LEGISLATION – As you Mayor, in 2019 I voted “oppose unless amended” at the Contra Costa Mayor’s Conference on AB1475. As a Councilmember, in 2020, I voted “oppose unless amended” at a City Council hearing on our position letter on Sen. Wiener’s SB50.
CLAYTON LEGISLATION – In 2017, I voted in favor of Ord. 476 to reduce density on sensitive parcels, so that undevelopable lot area (e.g. portions occupied by creeks, too steep hills etc.) cannot be used in the overall maximum unit calculation for the parcel. This legislation resulted in more realistic density, but effectively reduced the max. potential density on sensitive parcels. In sum, I advocate for high density housing in places where it makes sense, close to transit and jobs. San Francisco is a perfect example where HD housing should be built, and that is where I have focused my professional work. I have not proposed any new legislation to increase high density housing in Clayton. The challenge for Clayton in 2020 and going forward is how do we manage increasing State mandates re additional housing. We have to have working relationships with our State representatives, and we need to offer alternative solutions in a constructive manner if we oppose pending legislation. We have a voice, and if we are not at the table, we are on the menu decided by larger cities and the state. Let’s use our voice and efforts to work together to influence what we can influence, instead of taking on lawsuits we cannot win that will impact us financially. How much charm is left in Clayton when our budget and reserves are wiped out or severely impacted by lawsuits that we cannot win, and when we no longer can pay for the parks, police and other services, and everything else the City provides that all of us today enjoy?