CALISTOGA — The good news is, while the rest of the state isn’t doing so well, “tiny” Calistoga gets high marks when it comes to providing housing.
The not-so-good news is that the assessment process that sets the bar is flawed.
A report that came out in February issued grades for California’s 539 cities and counties based on their progress toward meeting goals set out in the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). RHNA is a statewide program that determines how much housing a local jurisdiction should create at four different income levels during a five- or eight-year cycle.
In all, nine jurisdictions got an A-plus. In the Bay Area those included Calistoga, Mill Valley, Hillsborough, Healdsburg and unincorporated Sonoma County.
Calistoga, with a population of about 5,300, scored well because it permitted 63 units through 2017, far surpassing its allotment of 27 units.
It also drew the attention of the San Francisco Chronicle, which interviewed Calistoga’s planning and building director Lynn Goldberg for a piece about the study.
The report, ‘Missing the Mark, Examining the Shortcomings of California’s Housing Goals, (https://www.next10.org/sites/default/files/california-housing-goals-2019-3.pdf) was commissioned by San Francisco think tank Next 10 to address the state’s ongoing “housing crisis.” Beacon Economics, based in Los Angeles, created the report.
Giving cities a grade is complicated for a number of reasons. Among them, “A lot of regions have high grades because they have very low housing targets relative to their population,” said Adam Fowler, Beacon’s research director as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The report also said it highlights how little progress the state as a whole is making. Only 26 percent of the targeted number of housing units statewide have been permitted across all income levels, Fowler stated on social media.
Beacon gave Marin and Napa counties a B-plus, but their housing goals amounted to only 0.9 and 1.1 percent, respectively, of their 2017 populations.
Those that scored a low grade, like San Francisco, averaged 3.3 units per 100 people, the report said.
The RHNA allotment for the A-plus areas averaged only 0.7 units per 100 people.
“That’s not a very high bar,” said Goldberg. “(RHNA is) trying to get there, but I think this report is really showing the crazy methodology each of the regions use to allocate the units. Calistoga is so tiny they can’t possibly have a good grasp of the job situation, like how many projected jobs we’re going to have.”
Calistoga’s housing progress
The 30-unit senior housing project that opened last year on south Washington Street contributed to Calistoga’s high rating in the report.
The city bought a piece of land and leased it for $1 a year to a nonprofit developer, the Corporation for Better Housing, that built the apartment building for very-low-income seniors.
Also contributing to the high score were the 20 multi-million-dollar homes not yet completed, as part of the Four Seasons Resort on Silverado Trail. Those homes are selling from $3.5 million to $5.7 million.
In December, the planning commission also approved a new 78-unit apartment project on Lincoln Avenue, which will go into the next RHNA filing.
“Fortunately, we have a city council that’s very proactive. We don’t care what our allocation is; we know we have a huge unmet need,” Goldberg said. “So it doesn’t really matter, it’s great, we know we’re fulfilling the state obligation, but we know we have our own obligation at the local level. But I’m always happy to see an A-plus. Yay us, but we’re going to keep plugging away. I don’t think we’ll ever get a high allocation but that doesn’t mean we’re going to ignore the obvious needs that we have.”
Problems with the allotment process
There are, and have been for some time, problems with the RHNA allotment process.
“The allocation of units finds itself misaligned with regard to the dynamics of the housing market — namely population change and job growth projections,” the report states.
For example, RHNA fails to take into consideration the population of adults who live with their parents or with roommates.
The process also relies on self-allocating of housing requirement numbers among regional councils of government. Many jurisdictions fail to submit an annual progress report to the state housing department. From 2013 – 2017, 100 jurisdictions failed for report how many units they permitted, the report states.
Penalties for not meeting allotments
Beacon’s report also notes that four bills have been passed in the last two years designed to impose consequences on cities that don’t meet their goals, and to improve the goal-setting process when the state enters its next cycle.
“It’s an excellent study … I think it’s really going to open some eyes and lead to some reforms. I think the consequences of it could be interesting,” Goldberg said. “The state has been pretty lax reviewing the allocations. Up until now, if you haven’t met your allocation it’s kind of been, ‘whatever.’ No one is scrutinizing how the jurisdictions are performing. Now, the state is stepping up. The governor is talking about tying transportation funding and other grants towards meeting housing goals. Once you start tying money to it, that’ll get some of their attention.”