LAFAYETTE -- Great restaurants. Excellent schools. Rising home values. According to Mayor Mike Anderson, Lafayette is an increasingly desirable place to visit or put down roots.
But at his recent "State of the City" address delivered Nov. 14 at the Lafayette Homeowner's Council annual meeting, Anderson spent more time explaining -- and defending -- the city's efforts to address growth and state-mandated housing requirements outlined in the city's general plan and in the contentious regional blueprint known as Plan Bay Area, than extolling Lafayette's accomplishments and charms.
And in a Nov. 15 newsletter posted on the city's website, City Manager Steve Falk followed up on the meeting, attempting to explain to residents that regional government is not responsible for local decisions, including the approval of new developments and buildings in Lafayette.
Such complaints were plentiful at last Thursday's meeting and echoed those of some Bay Area residents -- including those in neighboring Orinda -- who argue that outside agencies and Plan Bay Area are dictating local decisions.
Adopted by regional transportation and planning leaders in July, Plan Bay Area outlines how Bay Area cities and counties can fulfill state guidelines to cut pollution and concentrate jobs and housing near public transportation in "priority development areas," or PDA's, among other tactics.
The plan also addresses housing needs defined in the state-mandated regional housing needs allocation, or RHNA, which a city must comply with in their general plan via a housing element that shows enough land is zoned and available for housing at all income levels. In the upcoming 2014-2022 RHNA cycle, Lafayette has been assigned 138 very low-, 78 low-, 85 moderate- and 99 above-moderate-rate income housing units.
And while the city is not responsible for building that housing, it can't block property owners from doing so -- a point Anderson tried to hammer home.
"We cannot tell someone they cannot build on their land," the mayor said, after explaining that Lafayette does have requirements and conditions that have to be met so that development is consistent with "our values as a city." Those requirements, he explained, are contained in the city's general plan and in its downtown specific plan, which sets limits on building height, among other functions.
Anderson repeated his defense of a property owners' right to develop several times during the near half-hour he spent walking residents through Plan Bay Area and the city's own guidelines for growth and development.
"My whole point here was to ... once again give you a perspective of what these processes are, where they're coming from and what is behind them," Anderson said. "The City Council, the staff, all of our commissions have parts in basically dealing with these mandates and each one tries their best to work within that to keep this city a place we all love."
After the presentation, Anderson, Vice Mayor Don Tatzin and more than 20 residents engaged in a question-and-answer session on a variety of topics including traffic, building heights and Lafayette's downtown priority development area, for which the city may receive regional transportation funding. Some residents suggested that area be withdrawn.
"I don't think we should be receiving bribes from the government," as a result of having a PDA, said one resident. "If you need money, this community is rich enough and we can afford a tax rather than put up with these ... ugly buildings. I don't understand why Lafayette is using our tax money to subsidize these ugly buildings and bring in people that cannot afford to live here."
Anderson clarified that the city has only subsidized the Eden senior housing development, which will provide 46 units to low-income seniors so they can "stay in the community." The city was required to zone for 361 units in the current regional housing needs allocation; according to a recent update, 182 building permits have been issued between 2007-2012.
"The fact that we have a priority development area is not creating these buildings," Anderson said. "The buildings are going to happen regardless."