Last December, California's Department of Housing and Community Development told the city of Orinda that a loudly debated plan for how the city will accommodate housing for all income levels complies with state law.

Quietly acknowledged by the city but begrudged by some residents who say the final document doesn't fully reflect their input or vision for their semirural environs, the first-ever state certification of Orinda's "housing element" followed months of public tension between some Orindans and city staffers as they worked to shape the plan.

It's the fourth cycle of state-required guidelines that outline, in part, how officials will accommodate 218 units of affordable and market-rate housing spread over a six-year period. Those housing numbers are prescribed by the "regional housing needs allocation" overseen by the Association of Bay Area Governments.

Just three months later, Orinda city staffers are now gearing up to tackle the fifth update to the element, which requires them to show how the city will accommodate 227 additional units of very low-, low-, moderate- and market-rate housing for the next cycle beginning in 2015 and running through 2023.

Like other cities and jurisdictions across the state, Orinda and neighboring Moraga and Lafayette must also adopt their updated housing elements by a Jan. 31, 2015 deadline or risk having to revise the document every four years instead of every eight.

In addition to more frequent updates, the Lamorinda communities and others could lose out on coveted state transportation grant dollars if they fail to adopt their updated housing elements within 120 days of the state deadline.


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Opposition exists to too much change -- especially growth that would compromise the semirural character Lamorinda residents hold dear.

At a council meeting March 4, Orinda city leaders approved starting their update.

Community participation is one requirement of the housing element process. During the last update "cycle," a group of outspoken Orinda residents brought a steady stream of concerns to the City Council before drafting their own housing element update.

"I just wanted to recommend that we obviously do this one, that it be a robust kind of public workshops, hearings, informational sessions," said Mayor Sue Severson. "Obviously, all of our scheduled meetings are public and open to public comment."

According to a draft schedule, the city plans to hold at least one public workshop in July. But planning director Emmanuel Ursu said more will be held if needed " to make sure we go through a fully vetted and open process."

Ursu also thinks residents are more informed about the housing element process.

"The fact that this is coming on the heels of a really well-publicized and well-attended and very public process for the fourth cycle ... I think the learning curve the public goes through won't be as steep this time," Ursu said.

As part of the fifth-cycle update, the state is offering cities the option of undertaking a "streamlined review" process. This allows a city to home in on the sections of its housing element that have changed substantially since the previous update, providing the city meets certain requirements.

One of those requirements includes adopting a "density bonus ordinance," allowing developers to build more homes per acre than local zoning rules usually allow, based on the percentage of "affordable" homes in the project.

Orinda, which adopted the state's density bonus ordinance some years ago, is considering such a process. So is Lafayette, where officials will discuss initiating the housing element update at a City Council meeting Monday inside the Lafayette library community hall.

All told, the three Lamorinda communities will be planning for a total of 856 units they are required to zone for -- but not build -- as part of the fifth housing element cycle. Four hundred units are called for in Lafayette, 227 in Orinda and 229 in Moraga.

Moraga has budgeted $60,000 from its general fund for the plan update and Orinda is estimating it will cost the city between $80,000 to $120,000. Estimated costs from Lafayette were not immediately available.

More information about state housing element law can be found at http://www.hcd.ca.gov/hpd/hrc/plan/he/

If you go:
What: Housing element update discussion at Lafayette City Council meeting
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Lafayette Library and Learning Center community hall, 3491 Mt. Diablo Boulevard.
Contact: www.lovelafayette.org