Regulators still haven’t approved Los Gatos’ “housing element” — the state-mandated plan that lays out how towns and cities will help accommodate the state’s affordable housing goals. But builders are still pushing ahead.
The town’s initial housing element draft was submitted one day before the deadline in January. The California Department of Housing and Community Development rejected it as incomplete. The plan has gone through three rounds of revisions since, ping-ponging between the state and the town’s housing element board.
At the board’s meeting last week, chair Melanie Hanssen echoed residents’ sense of urgency.
“It’s really important that we try to take this housing element over the finish line as soon as we can,” she said.
In the meantime, developers for four apartment complexes in Los Gatos are seeking expedited approval for their projects. They’ve applied to develop through the “builder’s remedy,” a state doctrine that allows for speedier housing construction in cities and towns that drag their feet. It’s a tool San Jose developers have used lately, as well.
The developments would be built at 405 Alberto Way, 101 S. Santa Cruz Ave., 14859 Los Gatos Blvd. and 50 Los Gatos-Saratoga Road. The South Santa Cruz Avenue project would require the demolition of an existing 50-year-old post office building, which a “builder’s remedy” filing describes as “unlikely to be of historic value.” The Los Gatos Boulevard development, the second phase of a larger project called the North 40, would tear down eight homes, but repurpose an old barn on the lot. All four proposals still need to be formally submitted for approval.
Fear of losing local control
Residents are anxious to see the housing element settled, Lee Fagot, a member of citizens group Democracy Tent, told San José Spotlight.
“There’s a lot of interest in getting it approved,” Fagot said of the housing element. “The sooner we do that, the sooner we can ensure our guidance on what is going to be developed, as opposed to losing that local control.”
Fagot attributed some of the delays to the town’s concurrent efforts to wrap up its 20-year development plan, even as it navigates state housing rules.
State law requires Los Gatos to build 1,993 homes by 2031. The draft of the town’s 2040 General Plan, meanwhile, would add 3,783 new homes by shifting construction from single-family homes to larger apartment blocs. That proposal has been met with fierce resistance from some residents, who see it as overblown and worry it will smother Los Gatos’ small-town ambiance. The town’s population of roughly 33,000 has thus far been slow to grow.
“When you push through these things under a builder’s remedy, where there’s no scrutiny, there’s no opportunity for community input, you’re not going to get a quality development like that. And that’s the fear.”Brent Ventura, former Los Gatos mayor
According to applications filed with the town government, the four builder’s remedy projects would add 727 homes to Los Gatos’ housing stock, if all were built in their current proposed forms. Of those, just 144 would be set aside as affordable housing.
Los Gatos Manager Laurel Prevetti, the official spokesperson for the town, was not immediately available for comment.
Brent Ventura, who served as Los Gatos mayor from 1983 to 1991, said he’s worried the delayed housing element will tell builders the town is “wide open” for development. He contrasted the builder’s remedy proposals to projects like The Terraces of Los Gatos, a retirement community built during his term.
“When you push through these things under a builder’s remedy, where there’s no scrutiny, there’s no opportunity for community input, you’re not going to get a quality development like that,” Ventura told San José Spotlight. “And that’s the fear.”
The fourth and final version of the town’s housing element is still in revisions, but is projected to be ready for resubmission by September.
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