Pleasant Hill City Hall

Citing state rules, Pleasant Hill Council ­includes unpopular site in housing plan

PLEASANT HILL, CA (June 15, 2023) — Over community objections, the City Council approved an amended Housing Element that will guide housing development in the city until 2031.

The vote allows for 298 low-income units on the Paso Nogal and Morello Terraces privately owned hillside sites, land that both council members and residents said was inappropriate for building homes.

This was the council’s second look at the state-mandated Housing Element after the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) rejected the city’s first proposed housing plan. With the council chamber packed, overflow seating was set up in adjacent, community rooms for the public to watch the May 18 meeting on video monitors while others watched on Zoom from home.

Even before public comment began, Mayor Tim Flaherty explained to the crowd that state mandates, and HCD’s rejection of the city’s initial proposal, left city leaders with no choice but to open the parcels to housing.

Seeking outside help

Still, residents pleaded with the city to negotiate with state leaders, something that is not allowed under California law.

Residents also asked Flaherty to seek help from state Assemblymember Tim Grayson. Flaherty said Grayson’s office had previously explained that Grayson had no legislative leverage over HCD on the matter.

One long-time resident called the sites “not suitable” for building. Residents also urged city leaders to consider using the closed JC Penney home store and the Diablo Valley College overflow parking lot as housing sites. Flaherty said that HCD had already declared them insufficient to meet the requirements of the Housing Element.

Delay not an option

Many asked city leaders to wait before voting on the Housing Element, despite already missing a state deadline. Pleasant Hill is also facing lawsuits from housing non-profits for its failure to build affordable housing. More than 300 people live on the streets in the city, and there is a waiting list for affordable housing.

Before the council vote, Flaherty blamed the state for forcing the city to hit a moving target for providing adequate and affordable housing.

“When it comes to housing, we’re all victims of the policies of the past, and we have a very active state Legislature that is mandating one thing after another,’’ he said. “There are so many things we had to consider in this Housing Element that have never been considered before. This is all new. … We don’t have discretion; we don’t have the ability to go back and negotiate.”

Many at the meeting said they were blindsided by the designation of Paso Nogal/Morello Terraces for high-density housing on what they called “short notice.” But Flaherty said further delays could put the city at risk for fines or other penalties.

“I realize that you guys are in a tough spot,” said resident Richard Roberts. “What I come away with as I listen to staff, as I listen to your consultants is it’s the letter not the intent of the law. The intent is to provide housing for people; the intent is to integrate with an existing society – and we don’t do that.”

Editor’s Note: This is a condensed version of an article by Craig Lazzeretti that originally appeared on Martinez News and Views.