California cities’ ability to stop new housing projects limited by state appeals court

A state appeals court overturned San Mateo city officials’ objections to a four-story apartment building project in a ruling that limits local governments’ power to deny housing construction.

Under the Housing Authority and Accountability Act, or HAA, if a development project meets a city’s general plan and zoning standards, a city can only reject it if it would “have a specific, negative impact and unavoidable on public health or safety”. based on objective criteria, the San Francisco First District Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

The court said the HAA, passed in 1982 and expanded by lawmakers in 2017, applies to the other 120 charter cities in San Mateo and California, which are authorized by the state Constitution to regulate their own affairs. municipal. While Superior Court Judge George Miram found the law violated the charter cities’ power to govern themselves, housing is a matter of “statewide concern,” the court said. call.

“California is experiencing a housing supply and affordability crisis of historic proportions,” Judge Alison Tucher said in the 3-0 ruling, citing state law. She said the law allows local governments to regulate construction “as long as they meet their share of regional housing needs and have objective criteria for denying or reducing housing density.”

“California ranks 49th out of 50 states for housing per capita, and legal victories like this are needed to begin to stem the historic crisis in housing supply and affordability in the city. ‘state,’ said Daniel Golub, an attorney with the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, which appealed Miram’s decision. Real estate and construction groups backed the call.

Attorney General Rob Bonta, whose office has advocated for broad enforcement of the state law, said the ruling would promote racial and economic justice by increasing affordable housing.

Governor Gavin Newsom also released a statement Monday saying the court’s decision “protects our ability to hold local governments to account and ensures that families across California will not suffer when these same local leaders refuse to do their part to approve new accommodation”.

City Attorney Prasanna Rasiah’s office said the city is reviewing the decision, which it may appeal to the state Supreme Court. City and county government organizations supported San Mateo’s position in the matter.

The four-story, 10-unit one-block building was proposed in 2015 on a block in North El Camino Real that is already zoned high-density. San Mateo planning commission staff supported the project, but after some neighboring residents objected, the commission voted to reject it in 2017 and the city council rejected it in February 2018.

The Planning Commission cited city guidelines that new housing construction should not exceed adjacent single-family homes by more than one story, or, if larger, should have “recessed upper stories to facilitate the transition”.

But the appeals court said those standards weren’t clear and objective enough to satisfy state law. Tucher said proponents of the project noted that it included trellises on the sides of some apartments, and there was also a proposal to plant large trees between the building and neighboring houses. But the Planning Commission decided that these measures would not be enough to “facilitate the transition”, she said.

“Nothing, in our view, prevents the city from imposing appropriate conditions of approval to mitigate the effects the height differential may have on the surrounding neighborhood, so long as those conditions do not reduce the density of the project,” Tucher said.

Bob Egelko is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @BobEgelko

Bernard P. Love