County’s 20 cities hammer out rules

Peninsula cities have drafted new rules that will allow them to swap housing requirements for water and other resources in an effort to boost the overall creation of new housing.

San Mateo County’s 20 cities, along with the county government, are the first in California to join forces in order to meet local housing quotas collectively. Those quotas are handed down by the Association of Bay Area Government every five years and often pose major headaches for cities that say they’re already overdeveloped and lack the resources to add more homes.

Redwood City built just 19 percent of the 2,544 units ABAG recommended between 1999 and 2006, earning it an “F” on the Bay Area Council’s annual housing report card. But the city also struggles to provide enough water to existing residents, according to Planning Manager Jill Ekas.

“We’re concerned about our [next] allocation of units, just like everybody else. It’s not because we don’t want to provide them, but because … we have a real constraint on our water supply, and we don’t want to be asked to provide more housing than would be responsible,” Ekas said.

While cities face penalties for not planning to build enough new housing, they are not penalized for failing to build.

Local cities have developed a plan, due Dec. 31, that outlines the rules for pooling housing quotas, so that cities that are able to build more can absorb the extra units, according to Rich Napier, director of the City/County Agency of Governments. That plan will be aired in public meetings and finalized by the end of March.

Swaps must include units at all four income levels — including above-moderate, moderate, low-income and very-low income — and cities that absorb others’ low-income units must promise to keep them affordable over the long term. Those that agree to build bonus low-income units must also receiveother incentives, such as extra resource allotments, according to the plans.

However, the cities have not begun to haggle over who might agree to build more — or fewer — units, according to Napier. ABAG is getting ready to release new regional housing quotas in 2007, so municipalities don’t yet know what they’re in for.

“I think when we get down to the nitty gritty, it’ll be difficult,” said San Mateo Community Development Director Bob Beyer, chair of the county consortium. “It’s almost too early to be talking about that.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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