Zach Hilton
music in the park san jose

For the past four years I have participated at some level with California State legislative bills, first as an advocate and now as an elected official. I have spent hours listening, reading legislative files, all while writing letters of support and testifying myself. That experience has been invaluable back here in Gilroy as one of your legislators. As a local elected official, you are told by organizations like the League of California Cities that our “local control” is being taken away and we should fight for it. What they don’t tell you is why the State has been slowly taking back the local control that they have granted to cities. 

In 1969 a state mandate called the Housing Element and Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) was created. As part of RHNA, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) determines the total number of new homes the Bay Area needs to build and how affordable those homes need to be in order to meet the housing needs of people at all income levels. One part of the Housing Element requires local governments to prepare an inventory of land suitable for residential development. 

If you were developing this plan to build housing for all and required by State HCD to develop a sites list, wouldn’t you want to make contact with the property owner and verify that they would be willing to develop their land? (Gilroy has 40 sites listed and it took me a few days to contact six of them directly). Otherwise, you would be treating the process as a paper exercise, while promising housing to be built for all residents. Most cities, including Gilroy, don’t make a reasonable effort in contacting property owners, making these sites’ inventories unreliable. This is an example of our current local control, and since the law doesn’t require you to contact the property owners, we can choose to do it or not do it. It’s clear to me why this part of the local process has contributed to our housing crisis. 

Gilroy has a housing shortage and our low and middle-income households face historic rent burden. Undersupply of “Missing Middle” housing, or medium density housing near jobs and transit, is one of the key factors contributing to the displacement and rent burden of our residents. In Gilroy we have 75% of our land zoned for single family homes, 10% were small multifamily (two to four units), and 12% were medium or large multifamily (five-plus units). 

Data from our Housing Element shows 21% of households are considered extremely low-income, making less than 30% of AMI. As we prepare for the next Housing Element, we will need to examine the ways at which the 75% zoning can be the limiting factor as we work towards affordability, equity, and not continue to have communities that are segregated based on incomes and race. The consequences of failing to effectively and aggressively confront this crisis is hurting thousands of our residents, robbing future generations of the chance to call Gilroy home, stifling economic opportunities for workers and businesses, worsening poverty and homelessness, and undermining our environmental and climate objectives. 

Senate Bill 405 from Senator Cortese has been introduced and if signed into law would take back this local control and require a planning agency, for their seventh cycle housing element (we are developing the sixth right now), to make a reasonable effort to identify and contact property owners to determine the intent of the owner to develop the site. Further, a site can’t be considered a site that can be developed to meet a jurisdiction’s share of RHNA if the property owner notifies the planning agency or HCD that they don’t intend to develop the site, as specified, during the current planning period. It also requires that the information gathered in this effort be an important factor for HCD in determining whether the planning agency’s housing element identifies sufficient sites to meet the jurisdiction’s share of RHNA. Site inventories are updated annually or as needed, to stay fluid and relevant. 

Can you guess who is opposing it? The League of California Cities. 

On May 1, a public hearing will be held regarding Gilroy’s third Draft Housing Element 2023-2031. Come join us.

Zach Hilton is a Gilroy City Councilmember.

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  1. It seems to me that high density housing is the first step in building a ghetto. Current homeowners would be foolish to wantingly lower their home values. Single family, owner occupied homes produce far more attractive neighborhoods…you have only a short drive to prove this to be true.

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