Saturday, September 8, 2018

Ree-diculous Ree-na - Part II


Ridiculous RHNA ("Ree-na")

Part II

In Part I we saw how ridiculous is the current application of RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) numbers to housing in terms of Scott Wiener's SB-35 law.  Part I is here:

In this, Part II, we see what RHNA numbers are actually for.

"Not Meeting RHNA Numbers"

(I.e., "A city isn't building enough")

The California State Dept. of Housing and Community Development (HCD) is the agency in charge of ensuring that there are "housing elements" of the General Plan for each jurisdiction.  This is to ensure that zoning and guidelines are in place so that housing for different incomes can be built should a builder want to.

More about HCD and RHNA here:

The narrative of "housing activists" (some adopt the name "YIMBY") is that cities, by refusing to build housing or allowing others to build housing, are creating an artificial shortage of housing thereby driving up the price of what housing there is.  There are two problems with that narrative.

Problem One... that cities can't build housing.  Only builders can build housing.
Cities don't do this.
Builders do this.
If you want more housing, go build some.  Buy the land, hire architects and workers and build it.  As long as you follow all the various fire codes, construction codes, and zoning rules then you can build what you want.  You will go before a planning commission to make sure you follow the rules and then you start construction.  The city council will look over your plans only if you want a waiver from some rule.

Holding cities and counties responsible when they have no control over who builds or doesn't build housing - is irresponsible.  In particular, holding cities responsible for not building a specified quantity of housing for a particular income level makes no sense because cities don't build housing.  There is an issue if cities stand in the way of builders building housing but that has nothing to do with RHNA.  We will hold that discussion off to Part III.

Problem Two... that the RHNA numbers make no sense in relation to the "housing crisis".  As we saw in Part I, some cities and counties are very poor choices for housing development, and contribute nothing to the current "housing crisis".  Yet, because "they didn't make their RHNA numbers" those cities and counties lose local control over planning and zoning.  Of the 58 counties in California, 47 "didn't make their RHNA numbers" for reasons that have nothing to do with resident objections.  Nonetheless, they are subject to what are becoming increasingly draconian state laws over-riding local control.

Not a Goal!

RHNA is a planning tool.  It is not a "goal" - though you will hear that word used frequently.
You can get the complete HCD list of RHNA spreadsheets or PDFs here:

If no one builds the housing in the RHNA spreadsheet, all it means is that no one built housing there.  It isn't a failure to meet a "goal".  RHNA numbers aren't "goals" - they are requirements for planning.

But "goals" gets repeated over and over again implying cities or counties aren't trying hard enough.  If only cities would just get on with it and do something!  But what?  If builders decide not to construct apartments or houses in the quantity desired, no city or county can force them to.  Here are some newspapers reporting as "goals" what are really more like "zoning allotments".

Misuse of RHNA Numbers

"San Jose Mercury News"
CA State Senator Scott Wiener (author of SB-35) said “When 97 percent of cities are failing to meet their housing goals, it’s clear we need to change how we approach housing in California.”

To be fair to the SJ Mercury News, they are not calling them "goals", they are merely quoting Senator Scott Wiener who is calling them "goals".  Even though they are not "goals".

"San Mateo Daily Journal"
"City exceeds housing goals". Except they aren't goals.
Above from:

"The Bay City Beacon"
"According to the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), 97.6% of California cities did not meet their full RHNA goals."  (Like, Biggs, Alpine County, etc., looked at in Part I.)  "Only 13 cities (2.4%) met their goals in full, and would be exempt from SB 35 streamlining."from:

This is the fault of the Bay City Beacon reporter who fell for the "goals" concept.  Nowhere can I find HCD calling them "goals".

"Los Altos Politico"
"A close look the City of Los Altos Housing Element report suggests, there is not enough land zoned such that we can meet the goals for lower-income housing.  The only good news is that we do produce enough market-rate housing.  And that’s because to the State’s way of thinking, a tear down and rebuild of a single family home counts as a “new” house!"

The amount of housing stays the same, but tearing one down and rebuilding it counts as an additional housing unit?  Now the housing numbers make even less sense.

Official Description of RHNA Objectives
(Which Are NOT Goals!)

Interestingly, official documents about RHNA numbers never use the word "goal".  That is a word only used by people like Senator Scott Wiener and repeated by some newspapers - possibly merely quoting Senator Wiener.

What does California's Housing and Community Development (HCD) Agency say about RHNA?  The main information web page for HCD is here:

Under "Background" they say that because funding for housing usually requires "a compliant housing element" there needs to be a well specified description of what is zoned for.
Fairfax, Virginia's zoning map.  Every city has to do this.
Cities aren't responsible for building anything.
The number of housing units that must be planned for (including zoning but other aspects are considered, too) is allocated on a regional basis by HCD.  The regional Council of Governments (like ABAG in the SF Bay area) allocates it within the region.  They have formulas they use but they are allowed a certain amount of flexibility so it isn't a hard and fast set of rules.

HCD's website states under "Housing Elements" that "Since 1969, California has required that all local governments (cities and counties) adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community. California’s local governments meet this requirement by adopting housing plans as part of their “general plan” (also required by the state)."

Got that?  A plan is needed.  Once a plan is in place, HCD is doneThe RHNA requirement has been satisfied once a plan is in place.  If no builder decides to build, well - too bad - or not.

Here are some local California Council of Governments (CoGs) explaining what RHNA numbers mean.

Tulare Council of Governments
Tulare, CA
"Allocation targets are intended to assure that adequate sites and zoning is made available to address anticipated housing demand during the planning period and that market forces are not inhibited in addressing the housing needs of all economic segments of a community."

In other words it is a planning tool.  Market forces determine what gets built and in what quantity.

Santa Barbara County
Santa Barbara, CA
"The housing targets are intended to assure that adequate sites and zoning exist to address anticipated housing demand during the planning period."  It is not a requirement or goal that the housing gets built, only that there be space allocated and zoned for housing.

San Diego Association of Governments
2601 Juan St., San Diego, CA
"The Draft RHNA Methodology and Allocation distributes housing in accordance with the four RHNA objectives in state law: by reflecting the region’s commitment to planning for housing for all income levels in all jurisdictions, balancing jobs and housing, focusing development in our urban areas, and protecting our rural areas, open space, and habitat lands."

I highlighted the part about protecting open space and habitat lands because some people seem to think RHNA is about housing, more housing, and only housing.  The goals are a balance between housing and many other things which make places nice to live in.

Southern California Association of Governments
Los Angeles
"Because RHNA is a representation of housing need for the eight year planning period, it does not necessarily address existing housing need. ... State housing law requires that jurisdictions plan for all types of housing based on the needs identified through RHNA.  In addition, local jurisdictions are also responsible for ensuring there are no unnecessary barriers to the housing approval process."

Note the phrase "plan for", not build.

You can get the complete HCD list of RHNA spreadsheets or PDFs here:

The RHNA numbers were only intended to indicate what zoning should be incorporated into publicly available city and county general plans.  This enables builders to know what and where they could build.  It was not intended as a "goal" for a city or county.  This is because of the very simple fact that cities and counties don't build housing.

More than anything, this shows Scott Wiener's SB-35 is a grotesque misuse of a general planning tool.

But what about places that refuse to allow certain housing to be built?  Aren't they violating RHNA?  No.  The cases that get the most prominence - like Brisbane - have nothing to do with RHNA.  Those that get the most publicity are just some builder complaining a city won't let them build somewhere.  In the case of Brisbane it is on an unregulated toxic waste dump that really should be an EPA "Superfund" site.  RHNA does not enter into it in the slightest.

Builders build housing and if they decide for perfectly legitimate reasons that there is no market for new housing - if, for example, the area is not growing in population - they will not ask for a permit to build.  Even if they do build, but not to the numbers specified in the RHNA spreadsheet, for the income levels planned and zoned for, that city or county "didn't make their RHNA numbers".

This concludes Part II.
Part I is here:

Ree-diculous Ree-na - Part I


Ridiculous RHNA ("Ree-na")

Part I

Part II is here:

California has something called the "Regional Housing Needs Allocation", usually pronounced "ree-na".  It is intended to indicate how many housing units for different income levels a city or county needs to zone for.  See screen shot below (click to enlarge):

Housing and Community Development (HCD) web page for RHNA
RHNA numbers are being misinterpreted in order to justify California laws overriding local control of development.  Proposed laws like Senator Scott Wiener's SB-827 would allow high rise apartment buildings in the middle of single family neighborhoods.  Under existing law (SB-35) and proposed laws (SB-827, SB-828), builders need not consider residents' legitimate concerns about traffic, schools, parking or much else.  No public hearings, no parking requirements no environmental impact requirements.  All this because of gross misinterpretations of what RHNA numbers really mean.

In this part we look at RHNA numbers as applied to various cities and counties and see that if understood to mean "goals" they make no sense.  In Part II we will look at what RHNA numbers actually mean.

Cities that "don't make their RHNA numbers" are subject to SB-35 which is State Senator Scott Wiener's law to "streamline" approval of building companies' housing construction plans.

Terrible, No Good, Very Bad, Just Awful Places That
"Didn't Make their RHNA numbers!"
What is wrong with these places, don't they know there's a "housing crisis"?
A list of over 500 cities and counties that "didn't make their RHNA numbers" is available from the State Housing and Community Development Agency (HCD).  Cities and counties on the list are subject to Senator Scott Wiener's SB-35.  One of the cities is Biggs, in Butte County.  The list looks like this:

There's Biggs at #31 in Scott Wiener's Hall of Infamy!
The full document is available here:

Biggs, CA - Butte County:  Population 1,707 (2010) down by 90 from 1,797 in year 2000.  Biggs "didn't make their RHNA numbers" so is subject to Scott Wiener's SB-35, over-riding local controls on housing construction.  
Biggs, CA (Butte County) in it's entirety.
Biggs "didn't make their RHNA numbers"
Busy Biggs.  Build, Biggs! Build!
We need a Bigger Biggs!  A Biggsier Biggs!  
High Density Transit-Oriented-Development goes here!
Get with the program Biggs!  Senator Wiener is coming after you!

A three hour commute for Biggsians!
This is why we need High Speed Rail!
Biggs Version of Housing Crisis
3 BR house for $717/month
We'll see in the next census if they have reversed their population decline.  In any event, "housing crisis" hardly describes Biggs' situation.

City of Amador - Amador County: Population 186 (2010) - down from 190 in 2000 - "didn't make their RHNA numbers" and is on Scott Wiener's "list of infamy" that we saw earlier.

The picture below of Amador is from the "Encyclopedia of Forlorn Places" which notes that "The town mostly burned down in 1878 but some buildings survived that fire. It's a great town to walk around in."  No one built housing recently - maybe they are afraid of another fire like the one in 1878.  Sure, it's been 140 years, but you never know, right?  "Once burned, twice shy."
Amador: "Forlorn" but not forgotten!
Here is a screen shot of the Amador County housing spreadsheet with Amador City at the very top  (click to enlarge):
You can find this spreadsheet and many others at:
It shows that the town of Amador's RHNA numbers were for 2 housing units.  One for "Very-Low" and one for "Low".  No one built those two units so Amador "didn't make their RHNA numbers."  And for that, Amador City is on the list of jurisdictions subject to SB-35.  Too bad! 😢

Housing Crisis Extends All the Way to Here!

Alpine County: Population 1,154 (2018) down from 1,175 (2010).  Area = 738 sq. miles.  

Alpine County was formed in 1864 and peaked in population that year at 11,000.  A year later it was down to 1,200, 10% greater than now. Population declined by 21 in the 9 years from January, 2010 to January, 2018.  The US federal government owns 94% of the land in the county.

There are ski resorts and lots of up-scale vacation homes - probably vacant most of the year.

Nonetheless, the California State HCD lists them among jurisdictions (cities and counties) that "..have insufficient progress toward their Above Moderate income RHNA ...subject to SB 35."  Their "RHNA numbers" are seen in the spreadsheet screen shot below (click to enlarge):

Alpine County RHNA Numbers

Because no one built 11 housing units for Above-Moderate income people, Alpine County "didn't make their RHNA numbers".  (Maybe only 10 were built - but that wouldn't be enough.)  Therefore, should a builder want to, they can, to some degree, bypass local planning regulations.  Of course, it is highly unlikely anyone wants to build in a county where the population is declining and only about 6% of the land is not owned by the US Govt.  Doesn't matter.  Alpine County "didn't make their RHNA numbers" so local control in terms of considerations of traffic and schools is over-ridden by Scott Wiener's SB-35.

"Housing Crisis" goes to the Nevada border!

Sierra County: Population 3,207 (2018) down from 3,240 (2010).  Area = 953 sq. miles.
Downieville - Sierra County Seat
Sierra County was formed in 1852 and peaked in population in 1860 at 12,000.  Population declined by 33 in the 9 years from January, 2010 to January, 2018.

Like Alpine County, Sierra County "didn't make their RHNA numbers" and is subject to SB-35 to alleviate the "housing crisis".  Let's all hope someone decides to build 11 units of "Above Moderate income housing" in Sierra County so the "Housing Crisis" will be resolved!
"Help us!  Builder-Wan, you're our only hope!"

Modoc County: Population 9,612 (2018) down 74 from 9,686 (2010).  Area = 4,203 sq. miles.

Original home of the Modoc People.  Most of the land is owned by the US Federal Govt.  The National Park Service and National Forest Service employ a large fraction of the population.  The county is on the border with Oregon and Nevada.  It reached a population of 8,000 in 1930. Population has never reached 10,000 inhabitants.

Like Alpine and Sierra Counties, Modoc County "didn't make their RHNA numbers" and is subject to Scott Wiener's SB-35 to alleviate the "housing crisis".
Modoc County "Housing Crisis"
5 BR, 2,332 Sq. Ft., Mortgage = $712 per month.

Other Counties Here is a list of 15 counties in California most of which lost population over the 9 years from 2010 to 2018.  I added Amador and Kings which gained a whopping 3 and 31 residents, respectively, in those 9 years.  All of them are on Scott Wiener's list of infamy.

Alpine County             (21)  Population declined by 21
Sierra County             (33)    "                  "          by 33 etc.
Calaveras County     (421)
Del Norte County   (1,389)
Kings County         (1,320)
Lassen County      (3,984)
Modoc County            (74)
Mono County            (380)
Mariposa County      (122)
Plumas County         (234)
Siskiyou County       (288)
Trinity County           (151)
Tuolumne County     (625)
Amador County            +3    Population increased by   3
Inyo County                +31    Population increased by 31

Population Decrease of 1,389 in last 8 years.
"Didn't make their RHNA numbers" so...

Scott Wiener's SB-35 applies
In the counties listed above, no one asked for as many permits as the RHNA numbers indicated had been planned for.  Probably because there is no demand for new housing in poor counties that are losing (or not gaining much) population.  As a result, those counties "didn't make their RHNA numbers" and are subject to Scott Wiener's SB-35.

There are nearly five hundred cities which "didn't make their RHNA numbers" but it serves no purpose to enumerate every one of them.  In fact, over 97% of California cities "didn't make their RHNA numbers".

It should be obvious by now that the phrase "didn't make their RHNA numbers" does not mean what you thought.  Don't use it.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Sunnyvale Going to District Elections


Wed., September 5th at 7 PM, there will be a special Sunnyvale City Council Meeting to discuss going to district elections. 
Location:  Council Chambers, City Hall, 456 W. Olive Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086

Currently all 7 council members are elected at large.  This makes it difficult for those without much money as they need to get their message to 60,000 voters.  Going to district elections would mean that a candidate will only need to reach about 8,500 voters or about 4,000 homes.  This is much more affordable.

The city basically has no choice in the matter.  If it does not do this it will likely get sued under the California Voting Rights Act as has happened to Santa Clara and several other cities.  The courts have consistently ruled against cities who tried to fight the issue.

The agenda has much more information.  It is available here:
Look for City Council Agenda for 9/05/2018.

I've copied some of the highlights below:

-------------  begin partial copy of Sunnyvale City Council Agenda for 9/5/2018 -------

Direction Regarding Public Outreach and Submitting a Charter Amendment to Voters Regarding Changing At-large with Numbered Seats to District-Based Elections

1. 18-0776 (link to detailed discussion)

Recommendation: Alternative 1: Direct staff to scope a public outreach and education plan for receiving public input on whether the Council should place a measure on the November 2020 ballot for voters to decide whether to amend the City Charter to change from at-large with numbered seats to district-based elections, and return to Council by November 2018 for approval of the outreach plan and resources necessary to implement that plan.


Direction Regarding Public Outreach and Submitting a Charter Amendment to Voters Regarding Changing At-large with Numbered Seats to District-Based Elections


Cities throughout the state have increasingly been facing legal challenges to “at-large” systems of electing city councilmembers. The California Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”) was adopted to address vote dilution caused by at-large election systems in the presence of racially polarized voting. Almost all cities challenged under the CVRA have settled claims out of court by voluntarily shifting to district-based elections. In the Bay Area, cities including, among others, Fremont, Menlo Park, and Morgan Hill, have recently switched to district-based elections.

This issue made headlines in our neighboring city of Santa Clara over the last several months. Santa Clara, which has a charter provision with an at-large, numbered-seat system nearly identical to Sunnyvale’s system, was sued by the South Asian Law Alliance claiming that the system violated the CVRA by diluting the vote of Asian voters. Santa Clara chose to litigate the issue and the case went to trial in April 2018. The Santa Clara County superior court judge agreed with plaintiffs, holding that Santa Clara’s system violated the CVRA. The second phase of the trial to determine remedies was held in July 2018, and the court ordered Santa Clara to shift to district-based elections (six districts and a separately-elected mayor) beginning in November 2018.

Although most cities that have changed their electoral systems have done so under the threat of CVRA litigation, staff is bringing this issue forward and recommending that the Council make the voluntary choice to submit the issue to Sunnyvale voters as a charter amendment to comply with the CVRA’s disfavor of at-large electoral systems and eliminate the City’s exposure to litigation. The fact that Santa Clara’s substantially similar system was recently struck down makes this issue timely for the Council’s consideration. As discussed in detail below, Sunnyvale would likely face a high burden if sued, CVRA litigation is tremendously costly, and the outcome of litigation would be highly uncertain. Voluntarily initiating the process to switch to by-district elections will give the Council greater flexibility to determine the process, and the community greater opportunity for input, than the City would have if CVRA litigation is threatened or commenced.

-------------  end partial copy of Sunnyvale City Council Agenda for 9/5/2018 -------