Judge Orders Los Altos to Permit Construction of 30,000 SQFT Mixed-Use Project

Victory for Housing Advocates and Property Owners Using SB 35 and Other State Laws to Expedite Approval of Rejected Project

Santa Clara—A court has ruled this week that the City of Los Altos acted in bad faith in rejecting a mixed-use affordable housing and retail project and has ordered the City to immediately issue permits to build the project.

“This is a major victory not just for our clients and the developer, but an important victory that ensures cities must follow SB 35 state law to expedite and streamline affordable housing projects throughout California,” said Emily Lowther Brough of the law firm Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, which represented petitioners California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, Victoria Fierce, and Sonja Trauss.

Ryan J. Patterson of Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, who also represented the housing advocacy groups, added: “This decision demonstrates that cities cannot make an ‘end-run’ around the Housing Accountability Act and SB 35 with spurious arguments and fabricated roadblocks. The court’s decision confirms that both state laws apply and reinforce each other.” In this case, the City of Los Altos required the developer to pursue an administrative appeal with the city, and then argued that the developer had missed the statute of limitations deadline to file a lawsuit because the administrative appeal was still ongoing.

Judge Helen E. Williams of Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled on Monday in favor of the housing advocacy groups and property owners Ted and Jerry Sorensen to approve an embattled 66-foot building at 40 Main St., Los Altos, with first-floor office space and affordable- and market-rate housing above.

Judge Williams ruled that the property owners and advocacy group were victorious in their challenge against the City of Los Altos, signifying the petitioners were correct that the project complies with the state’s Housing Accountability Act (HAA), SB 35, and Density Bonus Law. The court ordered the issuance of the project’s permits – and attorney’s fees to be paid by the City to the housing advocacy groups and the Sorensens. In its decision, “the Court further finds that the City acted in bad faith as defined in the HAA because its denial was entirely without merit. The City’s denial letter and the record before the Court do not reflect that the City made a benign error . . . .”

Los Altos Santa Clara Zacks, Freedman & Patterson California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation Victoria Fierce Sonja Trauss Ted Jerry Sorensen
Illustration by William Maston Architect & Associates

The Sorensons proposed a five-story mixed-use building with office and rental residential uses (29,566 square feet). The project sought ministerial approval through State SB 35 legislation as well as density bonus units and incentives for increased building height in exchange for providing below-market affordable units. The site is currently a 2,400 sq. ft. office building on the west side of Main Street between San Antonio Road and State Street. The Sorensens were represented by Daniel Golub and Genna Yarkin of the law firm Holland & Knight.

Two lawsuits were filed against the City of Los Altos in June 2019, one by the property owners and the other by the housing advocacy groups, which sue cities when they illegally reject code-compliant projects in violation of state housing laws such as SB 35 and the Housing Accountability Act.

The property owners had submitted a streamlined permit under Senate Bill 35, a 2017 law that aims to encourage housing by fast-tracking the permitting process for projects that meet certain requirements.

The housing advocacy groups and the property owners demonstrated that the project fit under the state law requirements, but the city rejected their streamlined process, which led to the filing of the lawsuits against the City. 

The judge ruled, “In concluding that the City violated the Density Bonus Law, the Court rejects the City’s argument that the developer’s application was incomplete or lacked sufficient information to allow it to evaluate the density-bonus request.”

“The Court holds that Developer’s project was deemed to comply with applicable standards under SB 35 and that City must rescind its decision to deny and instead approve and permit the project at the requested density,” Judge Williams ruled.

The Housing Accountability Act (Government Code Section 65589.5) is a powerful state law compelling mandatory approval of code-compliant housing projects. It was enacted in 1982 and periodically amended, but seldom used until the housing advocacy organizations in this case began their “Sue the Suburbs” campaign in 2015.

The preceding is a news release issued by Singer Associates, Inc. on behalf of the petitioners mentioned above. This news release is not an article written by us or our journalists, and it does not represent the views of The Registry or Mighty Dot Media, Inc. We welcome feedback and alternative positions on topics, and we will consider publishing those, as well.

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