Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Solano County - by law - will have to provide more housing in the face of Bay Area growth

January 22, 2007

Better build it, because here they come -- Solano County - by law - will have to provide more housing in the face of Bay Area growth

By Barry Eberling

New homes are under construction in Peterson Ranch near Walters Road in Fairfield. (Zachary Kaufman/Daily Republic)

FAIRFIELD - How to spread out the next wave of Bay Area housing growth among metropolises such as San Francisco and outlying areas such as Solano County is a point of contention.

The answer that emerged Thursday proved a mixed bag for Solano County and local cities.

California requires each region to take its share of expected growth by setting aside land for an assigned number of houses. The Association of Bay Area Governments decides how many houses each city and county in the nine-county Bay Area must prepare to take, including low-income housing.

The state has yet to assign numbers for its various regions for 2007-2014. But the ABAG Executive Board on Thursday adopted a formula that will likely send more than 1,000 additional homes to Solano County than under the formula proposed in November 2006, though several thousand less than the previous allocation method.

So the county apparently made progress in its long-running dispute over housing allocations, but not as much as it wanted.

Solano County, Fairfield, Benicia and Vacaville each wrote letters advocating an approach that put still more homes in metropolitan areas such as San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, which are job centers and mass transit hubs. An ABAG committee in November 2006 recommended this approach after months of work.

"Solano County provides minimal fixed transit and is not a job-heavy region," Solano County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mike Reagan wrote to ABAG.

But officials from metropolitan areas balked at the large number of homes that could have been assigned to them.

"By any objective measure, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose produce the lion's share of affordable housing in the region," said a letter from the San Francisco mayor's office of housing.

"An allocation methodology that adds to their responsibilities while perversely taking the pressure to produce affordable housing off of more affluent suburban communities is simply not defensible," the letter said.

Solano County officials argued that putting a large number of homes far away from job and mass transit centers doesn't make sense.

"We end up putting a lot of people on the highways," said Vacaville City Councilman Chuck Dimmick, who represented the county on an ABAG housing allocation committee. "You know what Interstate 80 is like."

Counties and cities who refuse to comply with the housing allocations can lose state funds and are at risk from lawsuits filed by affordable housing advocates.

ABAG wound up compromising. It kept existing mass transit hubs in its housing allocation formula, but removed planned mass transit centers.

Though the state allocation for the region is not known, ABAG plugged the allocation from 1999-2006 into the new formula, to give an idea of what might happen. The state previously assigned the Bay Area 230,743 homes.

Solano County and its cities under that old allocation had to plan for 18,681 homes from 1999-2006. The November proposed formula for 2007-2014 shrunk this to 12,562. The method adopted by ABAG would allot 13,871 homes.

Meanwhile, San Francisco under the old allocation method took 20,372 homes. The November proposal raised this to 40,494. The method adopted by ABAG would allot 35,365.

ABAG also adopted a formula that will determine how many of these homes must be for low-income residents. A letter from Vacaville Mayor Len Augustine to ABAG dated Jan. 17 called the new approach - then still a proposal - "too aggressive" and said it will "result in unrealistic housing numbers for many communities, including Vacaville."

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at beberling@dailyrepublic.net.

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