Stacy Miles Holland for Atherton City Council

HOUSING

I support the City Council’s efforts to comply with state law in adopting this new housing element. Since 2018, various state laws have been passed to address the housing shortage, most notably requiring every municipality to build more housing and penalizing those who do not. These penalties are real: a noncompliant housing element invalidates a town’s General Plan, leaving cities open to opportunistic developers (see situation in Redondo Beach); fines and lawsuits could destroy the Town’s already tight budget (including lawsuits from pro-housing advocate groups, for example this SoCal lawsuit); and the Courts could ultimately decide to remove the Town’s planning authority.

With careful planning, we can preserve and enhance Atherton’s character while adding more people to our community. Atherton’s quality of life relies on our teachers, firefighters, police officers and healthcare workers, many of whom cannot afford to live in San Mateo County. 

 

Through the public comment process, Atherton residents made their feelings clear: they would prefer to meet those obligations through ADUs and school housing. It is wonderful that so many residents have expressed interest in opening up their properties to help solve this problem. 

 

The responsibility now falls on the City Council to submit a Housing Element that convinces the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), a very steep order. HCD has not been supportive of high ADU production forecasts in Southern California housing elements (for example Beverly Hills). Even Redwood City’s initial housing element - which proposed to exceed its obligations by ~150% - was rejected by HCD due to lack of specificity.  

 

The Town needs to have firm, specific policy and funding commitments to justify both the steep increase in ADU construction and to show that these units will be part of the housing market (ie, not being used as temporary guest housing or home offices). HCD also requires monitoring of ADU and SB9 production to ensure Atherton is achieving its goals.

 

In short, Atherton will first need to convince a skeptical HCD that our plan is feasible. Then Atherton will need to deliver on this plan, which will include recruiting and supporting the construction of hundreds of ADUs. We will also need a system to monitor that these units are occupied. This is a very tall order. It will require a lot of work, proactive community outreach and attention to detail. I am up for the challenge.

 

If I were on City Council today, my priorities and questions for Town staff would be: 

 

ADU CONSTRUCTION

  • Eliminate the ADU application fee and consider reducing inspection or additional permitting fees for ADUs.
     

  • Allow pre-approved ADU designs with ministerial approval. For example, the Housing Endowment and Regional Trust (HEART) of San Mateo County provides free designs for green, all-electric detached​​ ADUs that have been pre-reviewed by several SMC cities. Atherton should join that list. 
     

  • Allow multiple ADUs on large properties.
     

  • Create a Pool House-to-ADU program to educate residents on the features needed to qualify as an ADU. We should also reduce permitting fees for those renovations. 
     

  • Allow ADUs to be built over garages.
     

  • Reduce the parking minimum for ADUs.
     

  • Partner with Hello Housing, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the production of ADUs that serve the rental market. For South San Francisco, Redwood City, East Palo Alto and Pacifica, Hello Housing serves as a one-stop-shop providing free project management support for ADU construction (from permitting through completion) and landlord training to support fair housing practices. 


 

ADU RENTAL PROGRAM

 

  • Renting an ADU to a family member or friend - even for free - would count towards our housing obligation. The Town needs to create a program that encourages Atherton residents to report when their ADUs are occupied.
     

  • Partner with HIP Housing, whose Our Home Sharing Program helps match renters with ADU owners. Their program includes a screening process of applicants, facilitating a Living Together Agreement and follow up support.
     

  • There are eight schools within Atherton’s town limits. Teacher recruitment and retention impacts the quality of our children’s education. The quality of our local schools impacts our property values. The Town should engage with our local schools - particularly the public schools - to set up an ADU rental pipeline specifically for our school staff. This potentially could be part of Atherton’s partnership with a nonprofit such as HIP Housing.


 

FUNDING & PROMOTING ADUs

 

HCD prefers municipalities create an independent revenue stream to fund affordable housing. Allocating funds towards ADU incentive programs will also justify our projections in our housing element, making HCD approval more likely. 

 

Rallying support from the Atherton community to build and rent the necessary ADUs to achieve our goals will be a massive undertaking. The Town will need to be proactive and creative in its outreach, which historically has not been its strength. I would bring 15+ years of experience as a communications professional to guide and bolster the Town’s community outreach program.

 

Some initial ideas: 

 

  • Proactively communicate ADU benefits and incentive programs to residents through the Town’s communication channels (mailers, emails, social media, The Athertonian). Key messages to include: 

    • ADUs increase home value.

    • ADUs are not counted towards a property's maximum allowable square footage; meaning, converting a pool house into an ADU can create additional space for primary residence renovations.

    • ADUs provide a potential revenue stream.

    • ADUs as housing for aging parents, children, staff.

  • Host an Atherton ADU Tour: similar to the “Tour de Coop,” Garden or Green Home Tours, Atherton residents could voluntarily open up their properties to showcase their ADUs and answer questions from other residents. The Town would organize the route and provide educational materials.
     

  • If Atherton partners with Hello Housing or HIP Housing, the Town should host a Meet & Greet / Q&A event where residents can hear about their services and ask questions.
     

  • ADU promotional materials should be handed out with each building permit.
     

  • Host an ADU-specific “Builders Roundtable” to identify hurdles and solutions for ADU development in Atherton.
     

  • Conduct a proactive media campaign; for example work with Atherton Living to profile our ADU nonprofits, or a feature on a resident who lives in an Atherton ADU.

 

SCHOOL HOUSING

 

There are eight schools in town that could develop housing on their properties. Menlo College has expressed interest in building faculty housing. Funding is an issue.

 

  • Broker a partnership between Atherton, Menlo College (or another school / school district) and a non-profit housing developer. For example, the nonprofit Alta Housing manages below market rate (BMR) faculty housing for Stanford (as well as BMR programs for Redwood City, Los Altos and Palo Alto). Non-profit developers have more sources of capital (tax credits, city, state and federal government grants and loans etc.) than a typical developer, which allows them to build below market rate housing. Atherton could further support this development by creating an affordable housing fund and exploring grants and subsidies from the federal and state government. Atherton residents could also donate to the nonprofit fund separately. 
     

  • Contact HEART of San Mateo County to determine if funding might be available for workforce housing through its Developer Loans program. HEART is a 501(c)(3) that was founded in 2003 as a public/private partnership among the cities in San Mateo County, the County, and the business, nonprofit, education, and labor communities to create more affordable housing in San Mateo County. Atherton is part of its joint-powers authority.