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By Roz Rogoff

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About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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Making housing affordable in San Ramon

Uploaded: Feb 6, 2011
Housing prices in San Ramon and surrounding cities are very high. Even with the housing crisis, San Ramon is an expensive place to live. I moved here for a job in 1997 and turned 55 later that year. I wanted to buy a house in Sunny Glen, the senior neighborhood at the southern end of the city, so I made an offer in on a house on Dogwood Court for $180K.

There were four offers on it but one of them was ahead of mine. I was the backup buyer, but it didn't fall out of escrow for me to buy it. If I had bought that house in Sunny Glen, I probably wouldn't have gotten involved in city politics or started writing the San Ramon Observer, but I'll save that story for later blog.

The house I eventually bought isn't in Sunny Glen but it is in San Ramon and not in Dublin, or Pleasanton, or Castro Valley, where I also looked. I could have bought a comparable house in Dublin for less money, but despite what some of my critics have accused me of, I prefer living in San Ramon (but I like shopping in Dublin). I briefly looked in Danville, and yes, I could have bought a townhouse or duet there for about the same amount as my house, but I still preferred living in San Ramon.

Many people would love to live in San Ramon but are not able to afford it, especially seniors on fixed incomes. A few years ago the City Council approved a senior development at the Church on the Hill on San Ramon Valley Blvd. for low income seniors. The builder is accepting applications now until February 25th. Five hundred applicants will be selected by lottery and then that pool will be considered for the 105 apartments available.

Another senior housing project is planned for the abandoned bank building on Alcosta. That building has been vacant for many years and is scheduled to be torn down soon to make way for low cost senior housing. Neighbors would like to see the old building gone for good.

Affordable housing for seniors is rarely controversial, but workforce housing has a different image. Questions have been raised at public hearings and on these blogs about why the city wants to add so much housing to the updated General Plan 2030. One reason frequently mentioned is the legal requirement for workforce housing by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and/or the San Francisco Bay area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). See story on Bay Area housing in Saturday's Contra Costa Times.

The goal of these laws is to cut the amount of traffic on freeways by requiring cities to have housing for jobs in the city. The rationale is that people who work in a city would be able to afford to live there and wouldn't commute long distances to work, clogging up the freeways and causing air pollution. The people who passed these laws (our esteemed State Assembly), must be living in an idealistic dream world. They clearly don't live in California, which was built on freeways.

The San Ramon City Council is planning up to 1500 housing units in the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan. Some residents and business owners object to putting residential units downtown. I'm against using the Toyota property for this, but there are other office buildings and strip malls that could include housing in a second or third story. Existing buildings would have to be built up or torn down, but the new buildings would be more modern, efficient, and LEED certified with apartments, condominiums, or townhouses incorporated into a mixed use neighborhood.

If there's a furniture store on the first floor, the sales clerks and cashiers could live on the second or third floor. Their units would be affordable, and not require driving to work. That's the goal of this kind of planning, which has worked in other places. Infill development makes it easier for people to live where they work and to be able to afford it. What's wrong with that?

Tuesday night the City Council will consider reactivating the City's Housing Authority program. This will take the place of the Redevelopment Agency, which has been used to revitalize older neighborhoods for the last 14 years. Governor Brown wants the State to take over redevelopment agencies, so the City Council is looking elsewhere to keep control over affordable housing in San Ramon.

The Planning Commission will also be holding two more Public Hearings on the update to the 2020 General Plan, which still includes zoning the North Camino Ramon area for up to 1500 new housing units.

The checker at Lucky's, the waitress at Max's Diner, and your aging mother or father need somewhere to live that's convenient to where they work and people they want to visit. So those of you for or against these plans should try to attend one or more of these meetings to let the City Council and/or Planning Commissioners know whether you want affordable housing downtown or out of town.

Comments

Posted by Scott Perkins, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 8, 2011 at 9:14 am

As usual Roz, you put it nicely. We need all kinds of housing in San Ramon. We have all kinds of jobs here and we need housing for all kinds of people. Since the city is nearly built out, we need to look at infill projects. Infill project usually create controversy but they have been supported by the Greenbelt Alliance and the Sierra Club as the right way to provide more housing. We need to increase the housing around jobs, businesses and transit to reduce miles driven and the pollution it creates. Thanks for your blog on the subject.


Posted by MLOliver, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 8, 2011 at 11:18 am

The affordable and infill housing, however, should not be at the expense of one of San Ramon's oldest businesses in San Ramon, Toyota. Toyota has been an excellent, clean, well landscaped facility which has had a positive impact on the tax base and has always been a good neighbor as well a contributor to charitable fund raising efforts.

However, to expect that the new housing will relieve traffic issues is a bureaucratic daydream.


Posted by Paul Mitchell, a resident of another community,
on Feb 13, 2011 at 9:19 pm

I may have moved away from San Ramon in 2007, but I still have fond memories of living there and attending Planning Commission, City Council, and General Plan Review Committee meetings.

One assumption that ABAG and MTC seem to make is that people working on the first floor of a multi-story, mixed-use development and living upstairs will not drive as much, because they have a three-minute walking commute. Is there any proof from studies of REAL people living and working in REAL infill developments that traffic was actually reduced in San Jose or Orange County where infill developments have been built, or is this assumption just based on a theory?

Single people still drive after work hours to see friends, eat at restaurants, buy groceries, pick up drycleaning, go to the gym, and see a movie. Married people with kids do all that, plus drive to drop/pick up kids at school, take them to soccer, etc. No single shopping center provides all of those services within walking distance, and using a bus would consume too much time.

If there is REAL data to prove a positive impact on traffic, I would say, "Let's see it." Otherwise, I would be questioning the NCRSP assumptions, too, if I was still a San Ramon resident.


Posted by Commuter, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm

There are many reasons why we choose to live where we do. Proximity to work is but one factor. Quality of life I would argue ranks higher for most people. Schools rank highest for young families. Being close to friends and family networks is another important factor. Where others in the household work matters. I'd like to see the hard data too (why aren't our city planners asking for this?). But absent that, my gut tells me for every 10 homes added to San Ramon, you'll get one occupied by someone who actually works here too. The other factors I mentioned above are more important in the decision making. So in my humble opinion adding scores of more homes in the NCRSP area will actually add many more cars to our freeways, not reduce them.


Posted by Commuter, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm

One other thought... until BART stops here, we shouldn't be adding any more bedrooms. Dublin, Pleasanton, WC, Concord are the BART cities that ought to be building out the bedrooms. That would take cars off the roads.


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Feb 18, 2011 at 2:06 am

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Commuter,

I agree with your points on the reasons people buy homes in a particular city. The ease of walking to work is not #1 on the list.

I hope they don't put a BART connection here. The only way to do that would be to put trains back on the Iron Horse Trail to connect Pleasanton to Walnut Creek. Since I live across from the IHT, I don't want to see trains there.

A few years ago when I had a writing contract with HP in Mountain View, I drove to the Ace station in Pleasanton and took the train the rest of the way. San Ramon is only 10 minutes from Ace or BART, so while there is some driving, it can be combined with public transportation.

Alex Mehran is planning to put a Freeway entrance/exit at Norris Canyon and San Ramon Valley Blvd. for the City Center, so any residences in North Camino Ramon would have freeway access from Crow Canyon or Norris Canyon.

Roz


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Feb 18, 2011 at 2:33 am

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Oh, one more thing. If you have ever wondered why the medians on Bollinger Canyon Road in Dougherty Valley are so wide, I was told it is because they are planned for light rail in the future. So a trolley line could be put from the San Ramon City Center to the Dublin BART in the next 20 or 30 years.

Roz


Posted by Commuter, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 23, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Walnut Creek, Pleasanton, Dublin, Concord and Lafayette have BART today. Those are the towns that need an NCRSP equivalent, not isolated San Ramon. Those towns and others with robust transportation alternatives today are in our MPO. Those are the locations SB375 intended to target for infill, not us. Right plan, wrong city.


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