Activists, Politicians Seek ‘Desegregation’ of California City by Adding Low-Income, Multi-Unit Housing

Sam Pullara - originally posted to Flickr as ZoneTag Photo Saturday 2:59 pm 7/22/06 Piedmont, California
Sam Pullara / Flickr

Piedmont, California, is a small suburb with a population of 10,667 surrounded by the gritty city of Oakland, population 425,097. Piedmont is almost exclusively zoned for single family dwellings and is home to prosperous businesses. 

Activists and politicians are trying to end that distinction by forcing Piedmont to build “affordable housing” and increase density by allowing multi-family units.

One activist put it this way: “This is really what people have been pushing for — this desegregation of Piedmont,” Darrell Owens, a member of East Bay for Everyone, said in a San Francisco Chronicle article about the effort to transform yet another American suburb to an urban neighborhood.

The anti-suburb movement is based on the idea that these kinds of neighborhoods are racist based on restrictions on who could buy houses decades ago under now unenforceable rules.

And on top of the activism in California, cities are required to outline housing development goals every eight years.

The Chronicle reported on the efforts to transform Piedmont to a smaller version of Oakland, which is rated “safer than 1 percent of U.S. cities” with safest being 100 percent:

In the last housing cycle, Piedmont was asked to plan for 60 new homes and the city fell short, issuing permits for just 37 units. This cycle, the city is expected to plan for nearly 600 new homes. But some city residents prefer to keep that housing out of the mostly single-family, white and wealthy area.

Piedmont’s [Fair Housing Community Survey] of residents results come as cities throughout the Bay Area grapple with a housing crisis and a swelling homeless population. Piedmont — with about 11,000 residents — isn’t the only small city facing pressure to plan for housing — affluent Palo Alto is in the same situation and has already started to resist. The state requires cities to outline housing development goals every eight years, though those goals are rarely met.

Piedmont — which has a median household income of nearly $225,000 per year and is 74% white — is mostly zoned for single-family homes.

“Piedmont is really one of the most exclusive cities in California,” Aaron Eckhouse, the regional policy manager at California YIMBY, said in the Chronicle report.

YIMBY is the nemesis of the NIMBY phenomenon— Yes in My Back Yard vs Not in My Back Yard.

The Chronicle said Piedmont is “looking to address the city’s history of exclusionary housing policies and to generate more housing in a city that doesn’t have vacant land on which to build large housing projects.”

“We are working with all of our residents and regional partners to build our fair share,” Piedmont Mayor Teddy Gray King said. “Piedmont is committed to fairness and equity while maintaining our excellent parks, schools, and neighborhoods.”

The Chronicle said this housing movement comes as Oakland and Berkeley voted earlier this year to end single-family-home zoning. Berkeley aims to end homes owned and lived in by individual families by next year.

“Nothing is off the table,” Sara Lillevand, Piedmont’s city administrator, said. “There are no bad ideas at this point because it really is going to require such a different and creative approach.”

“The Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign is also pushing to allow affordable housing on city-owned parcels and church parking lots, though some residents who responded to the survey don’t support it,” the Chronicle said.

Councilwoman Jennifer Cavenaugh said residents would be a part of the process.

“Everyone is going to have an opinion, but we are bringing everyone to the table so we aren’t pushing housing down their throats, but we are bringing them along for the conversation,” Cavenaugh said.

“Our staff and my colleagues on the council absolutely understand the urgency of the housing and homelessness crisis that is happening in the Bay Area,” Cavenaugh said.

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