fighting to keep statewide housing reform

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A terrible and misguided court decision in San Mateo County threatens to undo and undermine a raft of recent legislation aimed at easing California’s epic housing crisis, and hamstring the state in passing future housing reform legislation. The Bay Area Council in a letter sent to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra this week (Nov. 21) urges him to call for an immediate rehearing in the case.

The decision by Superior Court Judge George Miram stemmed from a lawsuit the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (CaRLA) brought against the City of San Mateo. The lawsuit argued that the city’s rejection of a small multi-family housing project violated the state Housing Accountability Act (HAA), legislation passed in 1982 and strengthened in 2017 that is designed to speed up infill housing approvals and limit the restrictions cities can impose on new housing.

In a stunning judgement, Miram effectively ruled that the state does not have a role in guiding or enforcing zoning, land use and permitting decisions in cities that are governed under their own charters. Many of California’s largest cities operate under their own charter, including San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and San Jose. The ruling has the potential to nullify the effect of numerous state laws aimed at removing local barriers and restrictions to new housing, including legislation the Council has sponsored and supported in recent years to expand accessory dwelling units, encourage high density and affordable infill housing developments and hold cities accountable for meeting their housing obligations.

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