A comprehensive document that outlines where and how 3,700 new housing units could be built in San Bruno over the next eight years was released last week, with many of the new homes planned for transit corridors.
The state-mandated “housing element” is the first step in the city’s process of meeting targets to build 3,165 new homes between 2023 and 2031 to comply with the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, a requirement from the California Housing and Community Development Department that assigns residential growth in eight-year cycles.
The city will need to submit the document to the HCD later this year for regulators to determine if the plan meets muster — a big question given increased scrutiny on the process this year to ensure sites identified are realistic for development, and a concern in particular for San Bruno, which is on track to have permitted just 203 units within the current cycle despite its plans for 1,155 that were allocated.
But with several hundred units already in the works and the city planning for 3,700 homes, more than the required allotment, Pamela Wu, Community and Economic Development director, indicated she was confident the city’s plans would be accepted.
“If I were to give it a bet, I think we’re pretty good,” she said.
The majority of new housing, 1,600 units, is planned for in the city’s “transit corridors specific plan.” The 155-acre area was identified by the city in 2013 and includes El Camino Real, San Bruno Avenue, Huntington Avenue and San Mateo Avenue within a half mile of the Caltrain station. The hope is that development in the area can rely on public transit and have a reduced traffic impact.
The most significant developments would be 1,000 units of housing that could be added to a development planned to replace the Shops at Tanforan, a move that will require rezoning, according to the city.
Another 415 units are planned to be ushered in as part of the Bayhill YouTube expansion, and an additional 442 largely single-family homes are allotted for via development planned for the former Crestmoor High School campus along with the former Engvall Middle School site. The city estimated 345 accessory dwelling units would likely be built in the eight-year window, based on the current rate of production of such units in the city.
The 686 units already in the works are planned to come from the 427-unit Mills Park Center, slated to begin construction this year, and a 136-unit building proposed last year on El Camino Real, along with four other smaller developments.
But beyond picking sites, likely the larger challenge for the city will be meeting affordability requirements. Within the allocations, 704 units will need to be available to “very low” income residents, 405 to those with “low” income and 573 to those with “moderate” income — leaving the rest open to being market rate.
Given the county median income, a one-bedroom unit in each category would need to be offered at $1,713, $2,741 and $3,426, respectively. Offering the below-market rents will require subsidies, and the city will need to work out funding sources and collaborate with regional affordable housing programs.
Vice Mayor Linda Mason expressed commitments to building the affordable units, emphasizing that the city was still largely a “working class community.”
“Hopefully we’re able to balance all these things out, these are mandates but I think it is really important that we’re looking at the industries that need workers and how we can help to house that industry here within San Bruno,” she said.
Councilmembers and Mayor Rico Medina also expressed concern related to water supply, and questioned how the city would provide enough water to support new residents.
Wu said the housing element requires a California Environmental Quality Act analysis which will “carefully and strategically provide the water sources for the projected population.” Also noted was that each individual project requires a similar study.
“That is something that everybody hears, is water, how are we able to do this without that,” said Medina. “I know that it’s brought into the report … but I think it really is, at a fundamental level, everyone saying ‘hey it’s too crowded, hey what about electricity, hey what about water.’ And of course, it’s state mandates … so it’s not that they’re asking our permission, they’re dictating.”
Housing elements found to be insufficient can lead to financial penalties, and failing to meet allocations can result in a loss of some local land use control, like the state allowing developers to build without the city’s discretionary approval. The latter the city has already experienced as a product of falling behind in the current cycle.
And as an indicator of the state’s scrutiny, the majority of Southern California jurisdictions, which submitted their housing elements ahead of the Bay Area, have failed to receive HCD certification, prompting an extension of the February deadline for the region.
The deadline for San Bruno is Jan. 31, and the housing element is currently in a 30-day public review period that began Tuesday. It will next go to the HCD for review, and then back to the city for adjustments before being submitted for final certification in December. The draft can be viewed on the city’s website.