Piedmont residents wrestle with how to add more housing to exclusive enclave

In a staff report, the city highlighted several ideas from residents about how to build more affordable housing, including placing it on land annexed from Oakland and subsidizing development of new units and purchasing apartments for teachers and first responders in the neighboring city.

Piedmont’s survey results come as cities throughout the Bay Area grapple with a housing crisis and a swelling homeless population. Piedmont — with about 11,000 residents — isn’t the only small city facing pressure to plan for housing — affluent Palo Alto is in the same situation and has already started to resist. The state requires cities to outline housing development goals every eight years, though those goals are rarely met.

Piedmont’s Fair Housing Community Survey — were presented Wednesday to the city’s Housing Advisory Committee — asked 877 city residents in March and April if they support development and their preference on where it should be prioritized.

Piedmont — which has a median household income of nearly $225,000 per year and is 74% white — is mostly zoned for single-family homes.

“Piedmont is really one of the most exclusive cities in California,” said Aaron Eckhouse, the regional policy manager at California YIMBY, adding that its efforts to add housing will be “challenging.”

Leaders say they are now looking to address the city’s history of exclusionary housing policies and to generate more housing in a city that doesn’t have vacant land on which to build large housing projects.

But Mayor Teddy Gray King said the city has no plans nor the desire to annex land from another city for housing.

“We are working with all of our residents and regional partners to build our fair share,” King. said. “Piedmont is committed to fairness and equity while maintaining our excellent parks, schools, and neighborhoods.”

Still, Oakland leaders say they are open to developing a partnership.

Last state housing goals cycle 2015-2023

Goal: 60 units

Permitted: 37, with five units were for very low income units and eight for low income households

This cycle 2023-2030 (still being finalized)

Goal: nearly600 units

Breakdown: 166 for very low income, 96 low income, 94 moderate income and 243 above moderate income.


“My first choice is for every city to do it within their city borders,” said Councilman Dan Kalb, whose district shares a border with Piedmont.

But Kalb said his second choice is a partnership as long as “every city uses some of their resources to make it happen and we actually get it done.”

The housing goals come as neighboring Oakland and Berkeley voted earlier this year to study ending single family-zoning, with Berkeley vowing to eliminate it by the end of 2022, to try to meet those higher state goals. Piedmont officials say there’s no proposal to undo single-family zoning, but it’s a topic up for discussion in the committee.

The city has a history of segregation. As real estate developers built housing in Piedmont in the 1910s, advertisements used language meant to keep out people of color. Racial covenants that prohibited people of certain races from purchasing a home were commonplace and can still be found in deeds though they can’t be enforced.

The first Black homeowner in Piedmont, Sidney Dearing, who purchased his home in 1924, was run out of town after residents planted three bombs at his home. Dearing asked Piedmont to buy his house back from him, which the city eventually did.

Darrell Owens, a member of East Bay for Everyone, a nonprofit focused on housing and tenants’ rights, said some younger residents are campaigning for change.

“This is really what people have been pushing for — this desegregation of Piedmont,” he said.

Piedmont doesn’t have large vacant parcels or parking lots for development; the largest multifamily building in the city, which has no affordable housing, is seven units.

“Nothing is off the table,” said Sara Lillevand, Piedmont’s city administrator. “There are no bad ideas at this point because it really is going to require such a different and creative approach.”

Carol Galante, director of UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation and a Piedmont resident, said any change would likely be met with challenges.

She pointed to a 2009 incident when residents fought a plan to transform part of Blair Park into a soccer field, threatening to climb trees for “tree-sitting” to protest and demanding the city find space in Oakland instead.

Galante said Piedmont will have to be more “aggressive” to generate more housing. The city is already encouraging “in-law units” in backyards, but she said it should also look into duplexes and allowing additions to existing homes.

Irene Cheng, a co-chair of the housing committee for the Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign and a Piedmont resident, said officials need to get creative and look at “underutilized publicly owned parcels.”

“We want the city to look under every stone for any possible opportunities,” Cheng said.

Cheng said the survey results aren’t representative of the town. Her group is encouraging the city to allow for greater density in multifamily commercial areas.

“People are saying no because they are imagining a tower in Piedmont Park when in reality it will likely be something entirely different,” Cheng said.

The Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign is also pushing to allow affordable housing on city-owned parcels and church parking lots, though some residents who responded to the survey don’t support it.

The survey found that some respondents oppose requiring a minimum number of affordable units in new market-rate developments as San Francisco, Oakland and many other cities have done.

“The people who responded to that survey are pretty much rejecting all the common ways that most cities in the East Bay accommodate or support affordable housing,” said Gloria Bruce, the executive director of the East Bay Housing Organizations. “It really just comes down to (residents) … not just walling themselves off.”

Bruce acknowledged that any change will be an “uphill battle,” but like Galante and Cheng, she is hopeful.

Committee members said Wednesday there appears to be an openness among Piedmont residents to encourage projects that boost density. Claire Parisa said this is a “critical piece” as the committee continues its research.

Councilwoman Jennifer Cavenaugh said the city plans to ensure residents are fully engaged as they make housing a priority and the city figures out a solution. She said the city has two, well-used gas stations that could be demolished and developed, but even those developments would be small because of the small footprint of the land.

“Everyone is going to have an opinion, but we are bringing everyone to the table so we aren’t pushing housing down their throats, but we are bringing them along for the conversation,” she said.

“Our staff and my colleagues on the council absolutely understand the urgency of the housing and homelessness crisis that is happening in the Bay Area,” she added.

Sarah Ravani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: sravani@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @SarRavani

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated the level of support for annexing land in Oakland. The idea was among many residents proposed to build more housing.

Article source: https://www.sfchronicle.com/local/article/Piedmont-residents-mostly-wealthy-and-white-16189457.php

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