San Francisco Chronicle
San Mateo objection to apartments overruled
A state appeals court has overruled San Mateo city officials’ objections to a proposed four-story apartment building in a ruling that limits local governments’ authority to deny housing construction.
Under the Housing Authority and Accountability Act, or HAA, if a proposed development is consistent with a city’s general plan and zoning standards, a city can reject it only if it would have “a specific, adverse and unavoidable impact on public health or safety” under objective criteria, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco said Friday.
The court said the HAA, passed in 1982 and broadened by lawmakers in 2017, applies to San Mateo and California’s 120 other charter cities, which are authorized by the state Constitution to regulate their own municipal affairs. While Superior Court Judge George Miram concluded that the law violated charter cities’ power to govern themselves, housing is a matter of “statewide concern,” the appeals court said.
“California has a housing supply and affordability crisis of historic proportions,” Justice Alison Tucher said in the 3-0 ruling, quoting the
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 density of housing developments.”
“California ranks 49th out of 50 states in homes per capita, and legal victories like this one are necessary to begin to stem the state’s historic housing supply and affordability crisis,” said Daniel Golub, attorney for California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, which appealed Miram’s ruling. Real estate and construction groups supported the appeal.
Attorney General Rob Bonta, whose office argued for a broad application of the state law, said the ruling would promote racial and economic justice by increasing affordable housing.
Gov. Gavin Newsom also issued a statement Monday saying the court’s decision “protects our ability to hold local governments to account and ensures that families throughout California won’t suffer when those same local leaders refuse to do their part to approve new housing.”
City Attorney Prasanna Rasiah’s office said the city was reviewing the ruling, which it could appeal to the state Supreme Court. City and county government organizations supported San Mateo’s position in the case.
The block-long four-story, 10-unit building was proposed in 2015 on a block of North El Camino Real that is already zoned high-density. The staff of San Mateo’s Planning Commission supported the project, but after some nearby residents objected, the commission voted to reject it in 2017, and the City Council turned it down in February 2018.
The Planning Commission cited city guidelines that said new housing construction should not be more than one story taller than adjacent singlefamily homes, or, if taller, should have “step-back upper floors to ease the transition.”
But the appeals court said those standards were not sufficiently clear-cut and objective to satisfy the state law. Tucher said supporters of the project noted that it included trellises on the sides of some apartments, and there was also a proposal to plant tall trees between the apartment building and nearby homes. But the Planning Commission decided those steps would not be enough to “ease the transition,” she said.
“Nothing in our opinion prevents the city from imposing appropriate conditions of approval to mitigate any effects the height differential may have on the surrounding neighborhood, as long as those conditions do not reduce the density of the project,” Tucher said.
“California ranks 49th out of 50 states in homes per capita, and legal victories like this one are necessary.”
Daniel Golub, attorney for appellant