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Promote Medium Density Housing Options in Existing Neighborhoods to Help Reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled

Enact policies to promote infill develpmnt @ modestly higher dens. than existing neighborhoods, house more people in SV to reduce VMT.

Photo of CAP 2.0 Community Advisory Committee
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Written by

Douglas Kunz

How are you connected to Sunnyvale?

  • I live in Sunnyvale.

What type of applicant are you?

  • Community member

Stage of Development.

  • Early concept or idea (<few months of work)

What problem are you aiming to solve? (100 words)

Allow +people to live in SV = reduce city's VMT/GHG emissions. How to increase housing potential in neighborhoods while preserving character & addressing concerns abt. traffic & avail. parking?

Tell us more about your climate strategy or solution (500 words)

1) On-road transp. currently largest source of GHG emissions in SV. 2) Increasing local housing supply = easier to reduce emissions by allowing more people to live close to jobs. 3) Local land use policy is something that Sunnyvale's city government has a great deal of control over, unlike state/federal policy or the availability of low-carbon technologies. Although city policy has been recently relaxed to allow for some increased density in existing neighborhoods, particularly for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs, a.k.a. "in-law" units), this is an area where the city can go further. For ex, Planning Commission proposed 2018 Council Study Issue (CDD 18-05) to increase opps. for building ADUs. Would like consulting team drafting CAP 2.0 to analyze existing policy & present list of opts. for increasing housing potential in existing low-density neighborhoods, along w/ likely GHG-reduction impact of each opt. (indiv., or if possibly w/ interactions b/w opts. modeled if are mutually-reinforcing). Includes measures for promoting more ADU's, as well as opts. such as allowing duplexes/modestly sized (e.g. 2-story) multi-family apartments. This type of housing mix not new to SV. For ex, Washington Park neighborhood near City Hall contains mixture of duplexes & small apartment buildings (see photos above of duplex, apartment building, & ADU intermingled among single-family houses, taken in SV's Washington Park neighborhood) mingled among single-family housing, produces pleasant & cohesive neighborhood fabric.
4) Potential policy opts. such as increasing allowed zoning likely to trigger concerns abt traffic & neighborhood character. Policy effort must incld. outreach efforts to solicit such concerns from affected neighborhoods, & devise policy opts. to mitigate those concerns. For ex, "form-based" building codes offer promising ave. for ensuring new housing being added fits character of neighborhood & does not cause issues for existing residents.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (100 words)

Allow mix of housing types in existing single-family neighborhoods rather than following existing single-family detached "monoculture" that is currently zoned for much of city. Address well-publicized concerns about local housing affordability by: 1) increasing capacity of existing local housing stock 2) giving homeowners option to obtain addtnl income by renting out space. Make single-family housing more amenable to housing multi-generational families per demographic trends (aging overall pop.)

Explain how your idea would be implemented in Sunnyvale (700 words)

Ask city staff and CAP 2.0 consultant team to identify how city policy might be revised to foster greater housing potential in existing neighborhoods by looking broadly at existing policies concerning topics like zoning, floor area ratios, lot coverage, minimum parking requirements, etc. Solicit community input to identify concerns/potential unintended consequences of new policies and propose mitigation strategies such as form-based building codes.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (250 words)

Impact: as noted above, having more people live in Sunnyvale makes it easier to reduce on-road transportation emissions by reducing commute-related VMT
Cost: minimal (but non-zero) up-front costs, anticipated long-term positive impacts on City revenues (see "feasibility").
Transformational: small change that gradually adds up over time as older properties are redeveloped at "medium" densities
Technical Feasibility: does not require new technology to implement
Time Needed to Implement: ~5 years (prepare and pass recommended policy changes)
Community Buy-In: Outreach efforts needed, but certainly addresses widespread local concerns about local housing costs.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of people affected. (250 words)

Single-family detached housing constitutes 39% of Sunnyvale's existing housing stock (about 21,500 households) per 2011 General Plan (see graph), and single-family attached housing is an additional 10% of Sunnyvale's existing housing stock (about another 5,500 households). Given the large number of housing units involved, the proposed policy changes could potentially have a big impact even if they do not drive uptake by a large percentage of current property owners. For example, a policy change that caused just 5% of the city's single-family homeowners to add an ADU would result in the production of over 1,300 ADUs (effectively, adding 1,300 studio apartments to the city's housing stock). Obviously introduction of options like duplexes or multi-family apartments would have even greater impact on local housing supply than measures that only deal with ADU's.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (500 words)

I've performed the high-level research needed to create this proposal and identified potential next steps to quantify its impact (see answer for "help required"). No anticipated direct cost to city to implement (just change the policy); city would bear indirect costs such as staff time to analyze/craft proposal for Council and perform community outreach and implementation of policy change such as updating training materials, revising approval processes for building permits, etc. Costs potentially offset by incremental tax revenue (e.g. sales tax receipts) due to both increased local population, and increased economic activity (e.g. local jobs supported in building trades).

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (300 words)

Needs: Consultant/Sunnyvale staff analysis to devise options for diversifying housing mix in existing low-density neighborhoods, and impacts on Vehicle Miles Traveled and GHG emissions given the anticipated effect on population density. Financial estimate of impact on city costs and revenues.

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  • Yes, share my contact information

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Proposed 2018 Council Study Issue CDD 18-05 "Increase Opportunities for more Accessory Dwelling Units" https://sunnyvale.ca.gov/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=25196

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