By Rob Moore and Jeff Suzuki (originally published December 6, 2021)

Update as of March 30, 2024: This remains an ongoing battle. 

Due to the advocacy efforts of LGARC, the progressive elements of the General Plan survived largely intact and positively impacted our housing element. However, a handful of wealthy community members spread very misleading information and hired signature gatherers to bring forth a referendum on the General Plan (a public vote).  

Additionally, in this article, we state that “nobody in the town government takes this opposition [to DEI] seriously.” Unfortunately, this no longer correct. There are now two council members out of five who are critical of DEI as a principle. One of these council members, Mary Badame, voted against the creation of a DEI Commission outright in late 2023.

For the Los Gatos Anti-Racism Coalition (LGARC), we feel that access to affordable housing is deeply connected to our mission of anti-racism. If this connection is not yet clear that is completely understood; we plan on publishing additional articles on this topic. Suffice to say, our country and our community have a long history of racial housing discrimination, and affordable housing helps to rectify that troubling past.

Why LGARC Supports the Draft General Plan

The Draft 2040 General Plan, while imperfect, is a strong guiding document that will help move our community in the right direction. For this reason, the LGARC supports the Draft 2040 General Plan. 

The General Plan has a few really important elements, but perhaps the most important is the Land Use Element. We feel that the Land Use Element does three really key things. 

First, it allows for a substantial number of affordable units to be built. It does this both through creating more designated low-income housing, and through encouraging the development of more dense, naturally affordable housing like duplexes and fourplexes. Both sides of this equation are integral. Housing developers can only afford to build so many deed-restricted, below-market rate units, so we must also build more affordable units that will be prime for renting or young families entering the real estate market. 

The Land Use Element also takes a creative approach to where Los Gatos should be building housing. The plan does this through Community Place Districts, which are regions of town that have been designated as especially good candidates for development of different kinds. These are areas of town that may allow for mixed-use or medium density development and are great spots to build larger shares of affordable housing in Town. 

Last, the Land Use Element helps make our Town more walkable and improves our transportation infrastructure

The Land Use Element creates the potential for Los Gatos to build out a more usable public transportation infrastructure than currently exists. This portion of the plan also takes measures to make Los Gatos more bike-friendly. A more walkable, bikeable town allows our children to more safely walk to school while we as adults lower our carbon footprint and get access to all of the community-centric benefits of a more connected town. 

There are also other Elements of the General Plan we find to be important. This includes the Racial, Social, and Environmental Justice Element which pushes for more diversity and equity in town, and also discusses the importance of affordability. There is the Mobility Element which will reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled and encourage building more connected, more complete streets. And there is also the Environment and Sustainability Element which takes important steps for Los Gatos to do it’s part to address climate change and encourage plant-based eating. 

For all of these reasons and more, the Los Gatos Anti-Racism Coalition is strongly in favor of the Draft 2040 General Plan. 

Understanding the Controversy Behind the General Plan

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the Draft 2040 General Plan. So far, the letters and public comments provided to the Town of Los Gatos indicate two main reasons for opposition. 

The first is opposition to the General Plan’s explicit emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Opposition to this comes in the form of relatively unorganized and bigoted individuals who believe that acknowledging DEI will lead to some prophesied communist takeover. Even though they make up a substantial proportion of public comments, we aren’t concerned with the town not passing the General Plan due to opposition to DEI. Nobody in the town government takes this opposition seriously.*

The second reason for opposition is the General Plan’s Land Use Element. The majority of the opposition to the 2040 General Plan revolves around a single figure: 3,738 new housing units will be planned for development in the next 20 years (a technically incorrect figure, but we’ll revisit that). It is difficult to understate the degree of disdain people have for this number. 

Why the disdain? First, residents feel betrayed that the town didn’t fight its responsibilities under the state government. Los Gatos is obligated to develop roughly 2,000 units of housing under the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) in California. Some other areas have decided to challenge this number, or “appeal.” However, due to community pressure (LGARC), the Town of Los Gatos decided not to submit an appeal. It decided to accept its share of the responsibility. Some residents feel betrayed that our town didn’t bother submitting an appeal. On the other hand, we believe this decision is a brave one, considering Los Gatos’ history as a NIMBY stronghold. We fully support this decision.

Second, the Town of Los Gatos plans for almost double the units than what is required under the RHNA. In other words, the opposition claims that the Town of Los Gatos plans to develop 3,738 units, overshooting the RHNA obligation of around 2,000 units. This claim is incorrect.

975 of these units are actually not planned under the General Plan, 500 of them being ADUs and 475 of them already planned from the previous General Plan. This leaves 2,763 units.

Now, here’s why these 2,763 units shouldn’t be a concern. These units are planned and are not guaranteed to be developed by any means. For instance, our current General Plan planned for 900 housing units in 20 years, only about 300 of which have actually been developed. If anything, overshooting our RHNA is probably for the best, since we will realistically build only a fraction of the units we plan. 

Another important point is that our RHNA is on an 8 year timeline while our General Plan is 20 years— more than twice the time. After this RHNA cycle is finished, we will be assigned another RHNA number where the “leftover” units in our General Plan will be relevant. So this fear of overdevelopment has been overblown to epic proportions.

We’ll write another article in the future about the misconceptions regarding housing development in Los Gatos regarding water/energy infrastructure, traffic, and small-town feel. But for now, Kylie Clark’s article on misconceptions on affordable housing is a good place to start.