Area braces for housing quotas

Every seven years, the Bay Area braces itself for a milestone that cities dread about as much as the average person dreads taxes.

New housing quotas, handed down from state officials to the Association of Bay Area Governments, will be debated and potentially adopted by ABAG’s board of directors tonight.

Under the proposal, San Francisco will be asked to build more than 33,000 new units, while San Mateo County has a quota of nearly 16,000. However, such quotas are not enforced, leaving many regions free to build as much — or as little — housing as they can.

“The process is broken, and anyone who claims it’s not broken is whistling Dixie,” said ABAG Director Henry Gardner. “This is the state’s process … and we need much more input on what it looks like and how it operates. It’s extremely frustrating.”

Between 1999 and 2006, San Francisco was asked to build 20,372 new units, and succeeded in building 13,969. Meanwhile, San Mateo County collectively built 7,872 — a little more than half its quota of 16,305.

“We are not meeting the needs, especially for the lowest wage earners,” said Chris Mohr, director of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County.

California’s newest quotas were divvied up by ABAG so that cities with more growth and better transit were required to build more units. For San Mateo County, the numbers actually dropped, but for transit-heavy San Francisco, the formula creates a push for more units.

“The burden is placed on cities like San Francisco because the infrastructure exists,” said San Francisco planner Teresa Ojada. With the city’s current housing plan, “We have surpassed production targets for market-rate housing, but with affordable housing, we’re concerned we won’t meet the target. The funding is not there.”

Cities such as San Francisco already have the transit system to support transit-friendly housing, but some Peninsula cities, such as Belmont, do not.

“They tell us [residents] will use transportation. What transportation? The buses don’t come that often, and the trains don’t stop in Belmont that much,” said Belmont Mayor Coralin Feierbach.

Discrepancies such as transit are among the reasons San Mateo County is setting up a regional strategy to allow for housing swaps and other trades, so cities able to build more housing will do so, while those with less room for growth are not faced with an uphill battle. Cities in the county have not yet determined who will build what.

While most Bay Area leaders agree the process must change, that change will take time — and collaboration, Gardner said.

“It will only come when we can come together, region by region, and insist that we change this process,” Gardner said. “And we do need housing. We all want, 30 years from now, for the next generation to say, ‘Those people were pretty smart.’”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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