Citing SB 35, renters’ group files suit in Los Altos over rejected affordable housing project

The city of Los Altos is facing legal recourse over the rejection of a mixed-use downtown project over allegations that the city violated California’s Senate Bill 35, enacted in 2017 to expedite housing development.

Attorneys representing the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (CaRLA) have filed a legal petition with the Santa Clara Superior Court requesting that the city’s latest rejection of the project be overturned.

From 2010 until last year, brothers Ted and Jerry Sorensons have unsuccessfully attempted to propose an office project at 40 Main St. In November, they opted to redesign the project to incorporate housing in order to comply with SB 35.

SB 35, proposed by Sen. Scott Weiner with the aim of mitigating California’s housing crisis, provides a streamlined approval process for development projects that provide at least 10 percent of below market rate units. In Cupertino, SB35 is being used to expedite development of the Vallco Town Center, which will feature more than 1,200 affordable housing units.

In Los Altos, the 40 Main St. project transitioned from a three-story commercial building to a five-story mixed-use complex with first-level office space and 15 residential units in levels two through five. The project also proposes two levels of underground parking with 18 spaces. The project, however, has continued to be denied, with city size and parking among the issues cited by the city.

In legal documents, CaRLA, which was in part formed to advocate for housing creation amid a dearth of affordable options, has petitioned the Los Altos council in favor of the project in the past, saying it complies with SB35 and thus should be allowed to move forward.

“CaRLA has a direct and substantial interest in ensuring that Los Altos complies with state laws requiring that it participate in addressing the housing needs of California residents,” according to the legal complaint.

If Los Altos is found in violation of SB 35, it could financially impact its taxpayers.

According to the Housing Accountability Act, the minimum penalty for violating SB 35 is $10,000 per unit, not including legal damages.