Los Gatos’ goal to densify its housing is too ambitious, residents say, but they can’t agree on how the town should address the issue.
Democracy Tent, a group of Los Gatos residents, invited officials to a virtual meeting Monday to talk about the town’s goal to include more housing in its 2040 General Plan.
Los Gatos, a town of approximately 30,000 people, has barely grown in the past two decades. Under the current draft plan, town officials are recommending construction of 3,783 new housing units in the next 20 years, almost double what Los Gatos needs to accommodate projected population growth and current state housing requirements.
“The town is pretty much well built-out,” resident David Goldberg said at the meeting. “At this point, we’re bursting at the seams… It’s just not feasible.”
About 20 residents tuned in to the 90-minute virtual meeting, during which Los Gatos Community Development Director Joel Paulson and Senior Planner Jennifer Armer attempted to field questions on the draft general plan.
Paulson said the proposed housing goal looks at expected capacity. The town is opting to plan ahead in anticipation for at least two housing requirement cycles, one of which calls for construction of 1,993 housing units by 2031.
“Historically, the town has not produced anywhere near these numbers, (and) I don’t anticipate that we’re actually going to get to that number,” Paulson said. “But ultimately, we need to have those regulations in place so that we can show the state where we’re able to accommodate that.”
The town will also focus on adding more mixed-use developments and multi-family housing options, such as duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, Armer said.
Some residents said the town should have rejected the state’s housing requirement. A number of other cities, including Palo Alto, appealed mandatory housing allocations.
Paulson said appeals don’t often bring significant change, as many are rejected or only modified by a small percentage. In addition, because the total mandatory number of housing units for the region doesn’t change, the burden is simply passed to another city or town in the area to take on. Town officials have said the ambitious housing plan is an effort to make Los Gatos more affordable and inclusive to non-white, less-affluent residents.
Another resident, who didn’t provide his name, said at the meeting that the town’s housing goal “makes absolutely no sense” without any solutions to traffic on Highway 17—a popular route to the beaches in Santa Cruz.
“I totally understand the traffic concern… which obviously creates a lot of challenges for the citizens, there’s no doubt about that,” Paulson said. “There’s a couple options: (we) can try to plan for it, or we can not plan for it, and then we can let the state take over our land use entitlement process and move forward from there.”
Some residents, such as Mitzi Anderson, worried about the town losing its character by increasing housing density in historic neighborhoods.
“We are giving up our control of having these limitations with density and height, and also the type of houses that are going to be built,” Anderson said. “To me it just seems like we are giving everything away.”
New developments must follow design guidelines to match the town’s architectural style, Paulson said.
“We’re trying to preserve that look and feel of not only downtown, but our single-family residential neighborhoods as well,” Paulson said, adding that the plan doesn’t propose changes in heights and setbacks in those areas.
After an hour of questions, some residents said the current housing plan might be the best way forward for Los Gatos.
“I can agree with you that it appears that Los Gatos is built-out. We’ve been saying that for 40 years,” resident Lee Quintana said. “(But) I don’t think we should just look at it as saying, yes or no. We have to come up with some alternative solutions.”
Quintana said while Los Gatos hasn’t grown in a few decades, neighboring cities have.
“I just can’t understand the concept of totally not in my backyard,” Quintana said. “We’re responsible for part of the growth that has occurred.”
Resident Amy Nishide echoed the sentiment and urged others to see the plan as a positive change for Los Gatos.
“I do agree with (Quintana) in that the whole state has a housing issue, and the state will grow,” Nishide said. “We can either be proactive and help it grow in a sustainable, safe manner, or we could not do that and just let it grow uncontrolled.”
Not all were convinced, as Goldberg said the town needs to push back on these requirements.
“If we keep continuing down this path, we’re gonna look more and more like downtown San Jose,” he said. “I think people here don’t want us to be transformed into a bunch of high rises.”
Town officials encouraged residents to write to the Planning Commission and Town Council to express their concerns through the city’s draft 2040 General Plan website.
Los Gatos will release its environmental impact report on its proposed housing goal on Friday, which officials say will address concerns about traffic, energy and water.