The city of Piedmont is one of the wealthiest and most exclusive communities in California, but per state law, Piedmont is required to demonstrate that it’s regulations do not block the construction of a “fair share” of new housing, including affordable housing. This doesn’t mean that Piedmont is required to build new housing. However, it does require the city to demonstrate that its municipal rules don’t impede new development.
Affordable housing is a big part of the state’s law that requires cities to show how they are creating opportunities for developers to build new housing units. Lots of cities are eager to attract affordable housing development, including Oakland and San Jose. Piedmont, however, was founded as a wealthy enclave, and has built itself out physically, and politically, to exclude the construction of affordable housing within its limits.
So it’s not surprising to read in Piedmont’s Housing Element (a document that spells out how the city plans to create opportunities for building a “fair share” of housing, including affordable housing) that Piedmont’s only contribution to creating more affordable housing is to add servants’ quarters to some of the mansions that dot it’s hilly landscape.
According to Piedmont’s Planning Commission, the city has a very small number of rental housing units, only 50 apartments. All of them are crammed along Linda Avenue on the Oakland border. Piedmont has only 50 vacant lots upon which to build new housing, and many of these sites are unfit for construction of any large multi-unit structures. Piedmont was zoned decades ago to be a community of homogenous single family homes with large yards and long driveways. The only variation really was in the size of the lots, starting with large houses surrounded by generously proportioned yards up to the multi-acre estates along Sea View Avenue where every residence has its own private tennis court and pool and English garden fit for long walks under rows of redwoods and oaks. Piedmont’s city charter requires a referendum of all voters to change zoning in any area of the city from its current single family status to a multi-family zone that could accommodate apartment construction, or renovation of existing mansions into multi-unit buildings. In other words, this ain’t gonna happen.
The result is that Piedmont isn’t likely to build affordable housing, even though it’s required to demonstrate that developers have the opportunity to build affordable housing that would contribute a “fair share” to the Bay Area’s needs. The solution Piedmont’s government has come up with to build new and affordable housing is to encourage the addition of servants’ quarters—small studios and apartments added to the basements or attics above the garages of mansions. In fact, many homes in Piedmont were originally built with servants’ quarters for butlers, maids, nannies, gardeners, and other helpers. But having help fell out of fashion after the 1960s, so lots of these quarters were turned into dens or guest rooms. Piedmont’s planners hope that homeowners will take these spaces in their houses and re-convert them into rental units.