Housing advocates are taking Santa Clara County and several cities to court for their lackluster efforts in new housing amid an ongoing crisis.
Californians for Homeownership, California Housing Defense Fund and YIMBY Law filed 12 lawsuits this week after numerous Bay Area cities and Santa Clara County failed to submit plans on how to achieve state mandated housing goals by Jan. 31. The proposals are also known as housing element plans. The state requires every city and county to develop a plan to increases its housing stock as its population grows. In the South Bay, the county and two cities, Palo Alto and Cupertino, are under fire.
Jessamyn Garner, spokesperson for YIMBY Law, said the groups want to force violators to admit their shortcomings and escalate efforts to meet the state’s planning requirements. The advocates are also seeking court orders to take away local controls until these municipalities and the county submit their housing elements.
“Ultimately, we’d love for cities to just follow the process,” Garner told San José Spotlight. “We’d really just like to see more housing, because we’re in a severe housing shortage across the state.”
The groups also sued other cities in San Mateo and Contra Costa counties, including Belvedere, Burlingame, Daly City, Fairfax, Martinez, Novato, Pinole, Pleasant Hill and Richmond. The pro-housing groups claimed Santa Clara County and these cities have a long history of resisting housing growth and have made little progress under the state’s current mandate to address the ongoing housing shortage. Some cities, such as Richmond, are also being sued for approving a plan without a state review, skirting state rules. Noncompliant cities and counties could be disqualified from state affordable housing and infrastructure grants, and the state could impose hefty fines of up to $100,000 per month.
In Santa Clara County, seven out of 15 municipalities have adopted housing elements. Santa Clara, Los Gatos, Morgan Hill, Milpitas, Monte Sereno, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills all submitted plans on or before Jan. 31. All the plans are being reviewed by the state.
San Jose, Sunnyvale, Saratoga, Gilroy, Mountain View and Campbell are all working on revised plans after receiving feedback from state officials.
Matt Gelfand, a counsel of Californians for Homeownership, said the groups are putting legal pressures on the most egregious violators of the state mandate in the Bay Area. He said Santa Clara County, which is tasked to plan for 3,125 homes in its unincorporated areas, is at least two to three years away from finishing its housing element, which would delay housing from being approved and built.
“Unfortunately, it’s a pattern of behavior we’ve seen in counties,” Gelfand told San José Spotlight. “Given the status of the county’s progress, it’s unlikely that the county would make meaningful progress toward adopting the housing element without litigation.”
According to a state report, Santa Clara County has not submitted any housing element proposal. All counties and cities should have submitted an initial plan to the state for review at least 90 days prior to adopting the final proposal by Jan. 31. County officials started the process last July and have hosted seven meetings with community stakeholders and residents. The county has not produced a plan as of this week, according to the county’s website. Gelfand said the organizations reached out to County Executive Jeff Smith in December and threatened the county with litigation, but received no response.
Smith declined comment on the lawsuit, noting the county has not been served with the complaint.
“Regarding the provision of affordable housing, this county has invested over $1 billion in the provision of permanent affordable housing for our residents,” Smith told San José Spotlight, referring to the $950 million Measure A bond and other investments. “We have been a leader in efforts to house the homeless.”
Cities trying to catch up
Cupertino, tasked to plan for 4,588 homes, submitted its first housing element draft last week—months behind schedule. Palo Alto turned in its initial plan for 6,086 homes in late December. Both plans are being reviewed by the state.
Palo Alto spokesperson Meghan Horrigan-Taylor declined to comment on ongoing litigation and didn’t respond to why the city started the process so late.
Cupertino spokesperson Esther Kwon said the city is working to comply with state laws.
“There have been many significant, ongoing and complicated changes in state law related to housing, and the housing element update process in particular, which Cupertino has actively been working through,” Kwon told San José Spotlight. “Throughout the process, the city has been communicating and coordinating with (state) staff and is committed to completing the housing element update as soon as possible.”
Garner said the groups will continue to monitor cities and counties across the state and file new lawsuits against those that continue to flout state housing laws.
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.
Who didn't meet the state deadline
Santa Clara County
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