Happy Holidays from Team CalHDF! With the year coming to a close, it is time to look back at what we’ve accomplished in 2023, and look forward to what we have in store for 2024. This has been a year of growth for CalHDF, armed with our new name and expanded legal firepower, we started 2024 by stepping up our legal enforcement with a set of housing element lawsuits in the Bay Area. Our work has continued to expand since then by challenging  an exclusionary downzoning of a single family neighborhood, submitting applications for affordable housing developments, breaking more ground in court with a builder’s remedy lawsuit, and continuing our daily work to monitor and challenge local implementation of state housing laws. Here are some of the highlights:

Housing Element Lawsuits

To start out 2023, Bay Area cities and counties were facing an impending deadline to adopt their sixth cycle housing elements, local plans to meet housing production goals established by the state. Given the state of California’s housing shortage one would hope to see local governments jumping out ahead of schedule to produce and adopt ambitious housing plans filled with policies and rezonings to pave the way for housing growth. Unfortunately, these hopes were not fulfilled, with a few exceptions, nearly every city and county in the Bay Area failed to produce a compliant housing plan, or any plan at all, prior to the deadline. Today, nearly a year after the deadline, the majority of cities and counties in the Bay Area remain out of compliance. 

Fortunately, state law provides consequences for these failures. In order to ensure that these consequences are enforced, we selected four of the cities that had fallen the furthest behind on their housing plans. In collaboration with YIMBY Law, we sued Cupertino and Palo Alto, and on our own we brought two additional lawsuits against Martinez and Pleasant Hill. In all cases, these lawsuits aimed to ensure that the legal penalties for noncompliance—including the builder’s remedy—were enforced, and to push each city to develop and adopt a compliant plan. Today, Pleasant Hill recently achieved a certified housing plan, Martinez and Cupertino continue to refine their drafts, and Palo Alto adopted a housing element that was later found out of compliance by HCD.  

Santa Clara SB 330 Challenge

This year started out with our work to brief and prepare for a hearing in our lawsuit against Santa Clara County scheduled for trial on June 22nd. The case challenges a Santa Clara County zoning ordinance that sought to “protect the character” of one of its most exclusive single-family neighborhoods. The ordinance made a number of changes to development standards—increasing setbacks, decreasing maximum lot coverage, imposing a frontage requirement—designed to prevent the large lot single family mansions from being subdivided to allow for more affordable starter homes on smaller lots. We brought the lawsuit to overturn the decision, and show that the state law ban on downzonings applies to all new development standards that would make it more difficult to develop at higher densities, not just ordinances that decrease density limits. We are currently waiting for a decision from the court, hopefully in the coming days or in early 2024. 

Novato AB 2011 Affordable Housing

We at CalHDF are always looking for new ways to increase our impacts on housing. One way that we have begun to explore this past year: to actually develop new housing ourselves! Well, maybe not develop, but at least get a groundbreaking project entitled. In August of 2023, we partnered with affordable housing developer AMG & Associates to seek permits for four new affordable housing developments in Novato. All of these projects were crafted to take advantage of AB 2011, a state law allowing for high density development on commercially zoned properties, that had gone into effect just weeks earlier. These developments, if approved, would result in nearly 800 new low income homes in Novato, a city that had produced only 171 units of low income housing since 2015. If denied, we are ready to challenge that denial in court and establish legal interpretations of the new law throughout the state. 

La Cañada Flintridge Builder’s Remedy Project

The builder’s remedy is a provision of the Housing Accountability that has been widely publicized but never tested in court. The builder’s remedy forbids local governments from applying zoning standards to certain mixed-income housing developments while the city lacks a compliant housing element. We made it a priority in 2023 to find a test case to establish the law as a useful tool for housing development. Luckily for us, La Cañada Flintridge provided us a perfect opportunity. The city denied a builder’s remedy proposal after getting numerous attempts at their housing element disapproved by HCD and by the courts. CalHDF sued to overturn the denial, and sought to expedite the case. Most recently, we prevailed against the city’s demurrer (attempt to have the case dismissed) and have a trial scheduled for March 1 of next year. Even more recently, the state has joined the lawsuit to argue on our side against the city. 

Farewell and Hello to Greg

Greg Magofña, CalHDF’s Development Director, left the organization as an employee in 2023, but joined again shortly thereafter as a board member. We also welcomed three other new board members: Anais Leiu, Louis Mirante, and Annie Fryman. We were sad to say goodbye but happy to say hello again!

Looking Forward to 2024

After all of our accomplishments over the last year, we are excited for the next year of work enforcing California’s housing laws! We will be welcoming a new Director of Investigations and Planning, preparing for our trial in La Canada Flintridge, and preparing for new exciting lawsuits. Keep an eye out for more announcements as we begin the new year!

Support Our Work

Do you like what you’ve read here? We could use your support! We rely on individual donations for a substantial portion of our budget, and your support helps us continue to rack up the victories for housing. Please consider us in your year-end giving, or better yet, become a new monthly donor.