Despite several concerns about a sharp increase in Foster City’s projected state-mandated housing allocation, the City Council has decided against appealing for a reduction of its draft numbers.

The council at its June 7 meeting voted against an appeal, citing the lack of cities that successfully appealed in the past and the amount of staff time it would take for an appeal that would likely be more symbolic instead of creating change.

“It would be my opinion at this point it would be wasting the time of staff to appeal it. I think if we need to change something, we need to push on legislative or lobbyists on that point,” Councilmember Patrick Sullivan said.

Foster City has expressed concern about the methodology and process involving the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA. The allocations are mandated by the Association of Bay Area Governments, or ABAG, to meet state housing law. ABAG requires a city to plan for the development of additional housing units and remove constraints and increase opportunities.

The current RHNA cycle of 2023-2031 from ABAG calls for 1,896 units to Foster City, a 341% increase from the city’s last cycle of 430. Foster City must update its housing element by January 2023. The city initially was assigned 2,028 units from ABAG. However, it received a slightly reduced allocation to 1,896 units based on changes to data in the draft RHNA methodology from the Plan Bay Area 2050 Final Blueprint. The city will receive its final distribution in late 2021.

In November, the city sent a letter to the ABAG Regional Planning Committee about the increase’s lack of feasibility. In February, the city passed a resolution expressing concern about the RHNA numbers and state housing bills that would lessen local control over land use. During the last RHNA housing cycle, ABAG processed 14 appeals and granted three. The appeal deadline is July 9.

Community Development Director Marlene Subhashini said staff believes that even if the city successfully appealed, it would likely not see a huge reduction in allocation.

“It would be very insignificant,” Subhashini said.

An appeal would take around 30 to 50 hours of cumulative staff time. Councilmember Sam Hindi noted the appeal would be more of a statement sent to ABAG about the city’s disapproval of the numbers instead of leading to significant reductions.

“What is it that we would be trying to accomplish?” Hindi said.

Mayor Sanjay Gehani made a case for voting for an appeal to the council. He was concerned about the lack of dialogue available with state and regional agencies to address city concerns. He wanted to see more feedback, discussion and answers about Foster City’s concerns. He said the city did not want to be portrayed as anti-development because of an appeal.

“What I don’t want to come across is us complaining that we don’t want development when we are such an inclusive community,” Gehani said.

He said if the city appeal was not a large workload for staff and made sense for the city, he would support it, given the council’s legitimate concerns about the RHNA numbers.

“I would lean towards doing it even though the odds are against us,” Gehani said.

He maintained the community would like the council to continue to push for answers and action.

“I totally understand we are pushing uphill here, but when I think about the overwhelming majority of Foster City, would they want us to try? I think so,” Gehani said.

Councilmember Jon Froomin concurred with Gehani on the idea that a majority of the community would want to see some action, particularly as RHNA numbers were a concern throughout the Bay Area.

“I agree with you. I agree the community would want us to put up a fight of some sort,” Froomin said.

The motion passed 4-1, with Gehani voting against.

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