In light of an expected increase in the number of housing units San Mateo will be required to build by state mandate, city officials voted against forming a San Mateo County subregion for the Regional Housing Needs Allocation out of concern the city may face challenges in meeting its own increased demand for housing in the coming years.

Every eight years, the California Department of Housing and Community Development determines how many housing units will be needed in the coming years and works with regional bodies like the Association of Bay Area Governments, or ABAG, to determine how many units are needed in each county and city, explained Ron Munekawa, San Mateo’s chief of planning, at the City Council’s Tuesday meeting.

Munekawa said that in the process, ABAG develops a methodology for distributing to local governments a share of the total number of housing units needed across all income levels, also known as the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA. Once ABAG determines the RHNA number for San Mateo County and the cities within the county, each local jurisdiction must revise its long-range planning documents to ensure its land is zoned so it can accommodate the housing units required by its RHNA, he said.

In the last RHNA cycle, the jurisdictions within San Mateo County opted to form a San Mateo County subregion, which allows them to take steps to revise the RHNA numbers for individual cities as long as the county’s total RHNA remains the same, said Munekawa.

With the city’s next RHNA cycle to begin in 2023 and end in 2031, city officials throughout San Mateo County have a chance to consider whether they would like to form a subregion once again, he noted, adding San Mateo’s RHNA increased from 3,030 to 3,100 in the previous RHNA cycle.

But with the new RHNA numbers expected to increase substantially, city officials throughout the county have been hesitant to support forming a subregion in the upcoming cycle, said Munekawa, who added other metropolitan areas in the state have seen a wide range of increases in their RHNA numbers. He said the increases ranged from those assigned to San Diego County, which experienced a 6% increase in its RHNA, to the Southern California Association of Governments, which includes Los Angeles and saw a RHNA number three times its previous allocation in the most recent cycle.

Deputy Mayor Maureen Freschet was joined by other councilmembers in supporting a staff recommendation not to advocate for the formation of a RHNA subregion at Sept. 12 meeting of the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County, which will conduct a formal vote on the issue. Though she acknowledged San Mateo is estimated to be on track to meet its total RHNA number by 2023, Freschet wasn’t convinced the city should take on any additional housing requirements so another jurisdiction can build fewer units.

“I … think every city should be responsible at this point in time in the region with doing their fair share,” she said, according to a video of the meeting. “I would not have an interest in San Mateo doing more so that some other city can do less.”

Munekawa said San Mateo’s Rail Corridor Transit-Oriented Development plan and zoning accommodating additional housing units throughout the city were among the factors officials weighed when the city took on an additional 70 units in its RHNA during the last cycle. But with the possibility of RHNA numbers to rise substantially throughout the state and the housing shortage affecting communities throughout the region, Munekawa said staff felt other cities should not be allowed to reduce their responsibility in building housing units just because another jurisdiction is doing its fair share with housing.

In response to Freschet’s question about the city’s progress toward its current RHNA, Munekawa said four years into its eight-year cycle, the city is at 43% of its RHNA. Though the city cannot develop housing, he said the city may see its total RHNA come to fruition by 2023 given the projects that have been proposed and approved in the city in recent years. But he noted finding opportunities to meet the requirements that new units are affordable at different income levels would be a challenge for the city.

He also acknowledged the difficulty in predicting the city’s next RHNA, and said state officials are likely to scrutinize the formation of subregions closely to ensure communities are doing everything they can do fill the state’s need for housing.

Councilman Joe Goethals agreed with Freschet, noting the formation of a RHNA subregion could stand to minimize the efforts of cities that are doing their part to ensure housing is being built in the region.

“We are doing more than most other cities in our region,” he said. “We don’t need a subregion to raise the bar on us.”

In other business, the City Council voiced support for continuing to explore revising the city’s billboard ordinance to allow electronic billboards on city-controlled land as a potential revenue source. Councilmembers also discussed the possible impacts of public safety power shutoffs PG&E could employ in the event of major wildfire disasters.

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