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San Francisco area enclave Sausalito accused of ignoring California housing law

One of the housing projects the tony city of Sausalito looks forward to seeing built is in an underwater patch of eelgrass.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A housing advocacy organization says the San Francisco suburb of Sausalito “blatantly ignored” California housing law by adopting an eight-year plan that includes unviable housing projects, including developments proposed on land that is now underwater.

The nonprofit YIMBY Law sued the city located north of San Francisco on Wednesday, after officials adopted and certified a housing element that sets how the city will plan housing for eight years.

Every eight years, California cities and counties must create housing plans every eight years which are supposed to illustrate how they will meet the state's housing requirements and prove compliance with state laws in order to preserve local land use control and compete for state-issued affordable housing grants. All cities face unprecedented pressure to produce thousands of housing units within the next decade. In the Bay Area, the deadline to create these plans was Jan. 31, 2023. 

Since then, YIMBY Law and other pro-housing legal nonprofits filed 12 lawsuits against cities that did not meet the deadline or submitted plans that they claim are noncompliant with state law. Many of these cities saw average rents and home sale prices rank among the most expensive in the state.

YIMBY Law claims in a 28-page petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory relief that the wealthy Bay Area suburb’s housing plan is noncompliant with state law. The filing notes that on Jan. 26, the California Department of Housing and Community Development found the city's draft housing plan "would not substantially comply with the Housing Element Law."

Among many concerns, the department said Sausalito's draft lacked an analysis of environmental impacts and must demonstrate how listed housing sites are available for residential development, and prove sites' affordability. The city identified several parcels that "violate statutory requirements for lower-income opportunity sites" and even included occupied properties without conferring with the owners first.

For example, Sausalito's housing plan draft proposed allocating 28 lower-income homes to an underwater patch of eelgrass at an offshore park. Another site lists placing low-income homes in a marina, although houseboats are prohibited by established Bay Area Conservation and Development Commission policy.

The plaintiffs say the lawsuit marks YIMBY Law’s first legal challenge to the substance of a city’s housing plan.

“Sausalito has blatantly ignored state housing law by including an infeasible site inventory and bypassing necessary environmental review,” said Keith Diggs, attorney at YIMBY Law. “This lack of compliance subjects the city to the builder’s remedy so much-needed housing can be built anyway.”

YIMBY Law claims the city bypassed the environmental review process, which will obstruct every future proposed housing project. They also claim that infeasible sites listed in Sausalito’s housing plan will also create barriers to building new homes — and that both obstacles will make achieving state housing goals "impossible."

California cities without a compliant housing plan face the builder’s remedy, which requires them to approve any housing project that meets affordability requirements of reserving 20% of homes for low-income households or 100% for moderate-income households. Without a “substantially compliant” housing element, a city is subject to the California Housing Accountability Act requirement that bars them from using zoning or general plan standards to turn down any housing project that meets affordability requirements. 

Sausalito is one of dozens of Bay Area cities that have not met the deadline or have otherwise not met state requirements, YIMBY Law says. And it is known for some of the highest housing costs in expensive Marin County, with typical home values currently averaging just under $1.4 million. 

“This lawsuit, along with housing element lawsuits previously filed, aims to bring the city of Sausalito into compliance with state housing laws and to facilitate projects that fall under the builder’s remedy,” the plaintiffs said in a statement.

“It’s unfortunate that suing the city of Sausalito is necessary to ensure legal compliance,” said Sonja Trauss, executive director of YIMBY Law. “Fortunately, the builder’s remedy exists for just this circumstance: to make sure the housing people need will still get built."

The plaintiffs want a judge to invalidate the city’s sixth revised housing element and direct Sausalito to comply with California environmental law by making provisions for lower-income housing needs in accordance with state law. They seek a declaration that the city is out of compliance with Housing Element Law until it adopts a housing plan that a judge finds to be in compliance with that law and state environmental laws.

Sausalito officials, including the city attorney, did not respond to requests for comment before deadline. 

Categories: Government Regional

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