Monday, August 5, 2019

‘Sue the suburbs’: Bay Area housing advocacy keeps up attack


Advocacy group attempts to force cities to approve projects

In a low-key San Francisco office decorated with “legalize housing” T-shirts and a fluffy, avocado-shaped throw pillow, a tiny group of advocates is trying to sue their way out of the Bay Area housing crisis.
The four-person California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, or CaRLA, has one reason for being — to sue cities that reject housing projects without a valid reason. The litigious nonprofit with YIMBY roots struck again last month, suing Los Altos after the city rejected a developer’s bid to streamline a project of 15 apartments plus ground-floor office space.
It’s a bold strategy and one advocates say fills the enforcement hole in California housing policy. But it’s also helping push housing decisions out of city council chambers and into the courtroom — removing those key issues from local control and further stoking the flames of bitter contention that often surround Bay Area housing debates.
As the Bay Area struggles with a housing shortage that’s driving up home prices and rents, and some building proposals that could alleviate the crunch get bogged down or denied amid pushback from neighbors, CaRLA’s founder, Sonja Trauss, sees her mission as simple:
She’s here to enforce the law.
“Something, by hook or by crook, has to make these cities actually build housing,” said Trauss, a 37-year-old law school dropout turned housing advocate, who has a lawyer on staff and also works with an outside law firm to file her cases. Her group’s unofficial motto is “sue the suburbs.”
But critics argue suing the suburbs is not the best way out of the housing crisis. Development decisions should be made locally and with community input, not in courtrooms under pressure from outside groups such as CaRLA, said Mill Valley resident Susan Kirsch, founder of slow-growth group Livable California.
“These people (city councils) are so dedicated and are working so hard to find the solutions, to get the right affordable housing mix and the right jobs-housing balance,” she said. “And then to have the threat of a lawsuit, it’s just unfortunate, I think.”
In late July, Trauss’ group sued Los Altos over the city’s ruling that a residential and office project proposed on North Main Street did not qualify for streamlined approval under the state’s new SB 35 law. That law requires cities to expedite approval of certain residential and mixed-use projects. The city said the project didn’t have enough residential space to qualify under the law, among other issues, but the lawsuit takes issue with how that calculation was reached.

Posted by Steve Sinai


Anonymous said...

I hope the State takes away City control to build housing. Pacifica has done nothing. Fuck you hippies, You have wrecked this town.

Anonymous said...

The Coastal Commission says we can't build stacked housing because we are all going to fall in the ocean and when the big one hits California is breaking up in pieces. Good luck.