CalHDF has won the first court victory for the builder’s remedy in our case challenging La Cañada Flintridge’s denial of a housing development. The development in question is proposed for a site at 600 Foothill Boulevard along the City’s main commercial strip, and adjacent to the wealthy, exclusive single family neighborhoods that the La Cañada Flintridge is known for. The development would include 80 new apartments, 16 of which would be affordable to low-income households. The City denied the development on May 1st, 2023, and CalHDF sued to overturn the denial and establish the builder’s remedy as a viable legal tool for getting housing approved throughout California. 


On March 1st, the La County Superior Court held a four-hour hearing to decide on the case that covered the numerous issues at stake. The court was tasked with determining whether the City’s denial violated the Housing Accountability Act (HAA), but also whether the city’s previously adopted housing element complied with state law. 

In a 39 page decision released on March 4th, CalHDF won on nearly every argument. So you don’t need to read the decision, here are the major issues:

  • The court rejected the City’s argument that it hadn’t yet disapproved of the development under the HAA. The City claimed that it had only determined that the project failed to comply with numerous local development standards, and the development was not disapproved, but would need to be revised or apply for a rezoning in order to proceed. The entire point of the builder’s remedy is that developments are exempt from these standards, so requiring compliance with them was the equivalent of denying a builder’s remedy project. The court agreed, holding that the City denied the project under the HAA.
  • The court ruled that a builder’s remedy project is vested once a preliminary application is submitted. The city had argued that because it had brought its housing element into compliance since the application was submitted, it was no longer subject to the builder’s remedy and therefore free to deny the project. The court ruled that a builder’s remedy project remains exempt from development standards even if the city comes into compliance while the application is pending. If this ruling had gone the other way, builder’s remedy projects throughout the state would be put in jeopardy. 
  • The court determined that the city’s housing element adopted in October 2022 failed to substantially comply with state law on a number of grounds:
    • The city failed to adopt and be found in substantial compliance with housing element law within 120 days of the deadline, and therefore was required to complete required rezonings within one year of the deadline. Because the city failed to do this, the court found that it was out of substantial compliance.
    • The Oct 2022 housing element failed to affirmatively further fair housing, as required by state law. It failed to analyze the distribution of low income housing across the city and explain the concentration of low income sites along Foothill Boulevard, separated from the exclusive single family neighborhoods that characterize most of the city. 
    • The housing element failed to adequately establish that low income sites with existing uses are likely to develop within the eight year planning period. The city is required by state law to show evidence that existing uses will discontinue if over half of its low income sites are non vacant. 
    • The city failed to adjust its projections for housing sites based on the numerous constraints on development that were identified in the housing element. State law requires plans to adjust expected housing production for sites based on these constraints. The court agreed with our argument that the city failed to make these adjustments. Forcing cities throughout the state to make this same adjustment would result in increasing the number of sites available in each plan, improving the likely housing production. 
    • Finally, the court agreed with our argument that the housing element failed to show that at least 50% of its low income site inventory was provided on sites allowing for only residential use. 
  • We argued that the city had, throughout both the housing element process and in considering the 600 Foothill application, operated in bad faith to prevent a much needed affordable housing development. In the housing element, the city shaped the plan to separate low income housing from single family neighborhoods, seemingly acquiescing to public comments requesting the city do what it can to prevent low income black residents from moving into their neighborhoods. Some residents sarcastically commented that the residents might as well “move to Compton” or that they would have to “dust off their shotgun” if the city allowed low income housing in exclusive neighborhoods. The city responded by developing a plan that minimized and separated low income sites, and intentionally excluded the one site that the city knew was likely to develop: 600 Foothill Boulevard. Later on when faced with an actual affordable housing development at 600 Foothill, the city responded by claiming that a housing element denied by the state was actually in compliance, then ignoring the builder’s remedy by determining that the project was out of compliance with inapplicable local standards. If it found bad faith, the court could have ordered the project approved rather than allowing the city to reconsider its decision.
    • Unfortunately, the court disagreed that the city acted in bad faith. Cities like La Cañada Flintridge have grown accustomed to not fulfilling their housing obligations, so its actions to enact policies of exclusion and deny proposed affordable housing are just maintaining the status quo in the city. We hope to move beyond these low expectations for cities as we continue to advocate for local accountability on housing. 



Back in 2018 and 2019, Senator Scott Wiener authored a pair of bills that would have provided real solutions for California cities to free up zoning capacity around transit, and allow for desperately needed housing development and preempt local zoning restrictions. These bills, SB 827 and SB 50, were met with panic and vehement opposition from cities. Cities claimed that they would develop their own plans to address the housing shortage through the state’s regional housing needs allocation and housing element process. The state enacted more realistic targets for local housing production and left the cities to exercise their local control and enact plans to produce the required housing. 

Now that the deadlines for enacting local plans have come and gone for both the Bay Area and SoCal, we can look at the results of local control. Cities have responded by enacting half measures or complete inaction. Many cities, like La Cañada Flintridge, were so hopelessly late in the process that they failed to even submit a draft for review until the final deadline. The plans that were developed, with some exceptions, are woefully inadequate. Most cities are more interested in ensuring the housing element process produces the least amount of housing possible, than they are in producing and enacting plans designed to solve the state’s housing shortage. 

The builder’s remedy is meant to act as a solution for these cities that flout their state law mandate and continue to use local control to worsen the state’s housing shortage and homelessness crisis. In these cities, developers are allowed to ignore local zoning, density and other barriers to housing production. We hope that our victory against La Cañada Flintridge will set an example for cities considering the thousands of units around the state proposed under the builder’s remedy. These cities should follow state law and approve of these projects, while working to enact genuinely good housing plans designed to help the state overcome the shortage.