By Brendan Connelly, Online News Editor
// The City of Lafayette adopted its current General Plan, the blueprint for Lafayette’s growth, 20 years ago in 2002. As the General Planning Advisory Committee (GPAC), the Planning Commission, and the City Council prepare to adopt a new General Plan, which includes a new Housing Element, they continue to seek community feedback and involvement to determine a plan for the future of Lafayette.
Lafayette City Planners Renata Robles and Sarah Allen hosted two Academy workshops for Acalanes High School students on Jan. 12 and Jan. 14 to both inform students on housing-related issues and gather input regarding their values and ideas to help plan for housing in the years to come.
Lafayette last updated the Housing Element in the General Plan in 2015. It must be updated again per a state law that requires an update every eight years. As such, it will be revised in tandem with the entire General Plan by the start of 2023.
The 2015 to 2023 Housing Element, also known as the fifth cycle, required planning for at least 400 new units, ranging from very low to above-moderate income. In this sixth cycle, from 2023 to 2031, the committee, the commission, and the council must plan for 2,114 units. 60 percent of these units are to be affordable housing, targeting low to medium wage earners.
However, some students questioned the effectiveness and impact of the groups’ planning for new housing developments since the City itself does not actually develop the housing. For instance, in the fifth cycle, Lafayette exceeded the plans for above-moderate income housing but fell short of affordable housing.
“I am not sure how effective the implementation of affordable housing is in Lafayette. The condos recently developed are still very expensive considering the fact that they are supposed to be affordable. I personally feel like $1 million is too expensive for a living situation considered to be affordable for all families,” junior Catherine Judson said.
In addition to discussing the importance of affordability on Wednesday, students also shared other aspects they want to see included in new housing developments.
“It felt like a lot of the students that participated were interested in the quality of life for the City. [For instance, students wanted to make] sure it’s a walkable place and that design aesthetics are incorporated into our planning efforts for new housing. [They also valued] affordability and accessibility of the city for folks who don’t currently live here,” Robles said.
During the Friday workshop, GPAC representative Kristine Rasmussen joined Robles and Allen. They began by reviewing many of the major concepts from Wednesday’s workshop and then further expanded on the concept of density, one of the most critical components of the Housing Element.
“Basically, density is the number of units on a single acre. That’s the standard metric, and then a lot of different things affect density. So, technically, you can have a really tall building on an acre lot but only [have] five units. [In contrast,] if you have smaller units in that same building volume, you could have 18 units. [It would] have a higher density, but it would look the same on the outside,” Robles said in Friday’s workshop.
Following this, Robles, Allen, and Rasmussen answered student questions and had them participate in an online simulation to determine the density of new housing in various sites across Lafayette in order to give feedback to the City.
“The online simulation was cool. We learned about all the factors that go into housing and density concerns in order to maximize the efficiency of our housing plans,” sophomore Eden Hall said. “It wasn’t as simple as just adding apartments to areas that didn’t have them. You had to consider walkability, overcrowding, distance from downtown, and many other factors. It was challenging and eye-opening.”
Overall, students had the opportunity to learn a great deal about the future of housing in Lafayette and about the planning process.
“I learned how difficult it is to be a city planner. There were so many different perspectives from which to approach the housing crisis, and the planners did an incredible job of explaining all those views to us so we could consider them,” Hall said.
In addition to learning, students provided valuable feedback to the City Planners about their hopes for the future of Lafayette.
“I wanted [students] to know that there are ways for them to get involved in their city and have a tangible impact on the future of Lafayette,” Robles said. “Youth have an important perspective in that they’re the future of the city in a lot of ways, and their voice is really important in shaping what they’d like to see more of for Lafayette.”
For more information about revisions to the General Plan, visit https://www.planlafayette.org/.