SB 35 project wins legal battle in Los Altos

A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge has ruled against the City of Los Altos, allowing a controversial project to move forward.

In her ruling last week, Judge Helen Williams stated that Los Altos must allow a five-story development to move forward. The 66-foot-tall project, in the city’s downtown section, is a mixed-use development with 15 housing units. Two of the housing units will be for low-income residents.

In 2018, the project developer applied to Los Altos for approval under Senate Bill 35 – SB 35 – process, which allows some projects to get expedited approval if they meet stringent requirements. Los Altos denied the application. A YIMBY-supported group, California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund – known as CaRLA, then sued Los Altos.

Judge Williams ruled that the city’s denial did not meet the standard required by SB 35 to deny a project.

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

“What’s more, there is no explanation in the denial letter about how the proposal was inconsistent with the unspecified standards applied by the City,” the ruling continued.

Los Altos officials noted their displeasure at the ruling. They have not commented on if they plan to appeal to a higher court.

“Of course, the city is very disappointed with the judge’s decision, but we will not comment further until after the city council has the opportunity to discuss the decision,” said Los Altos City spokeswoman Sonia Lee told the Mercury News in a statement.

Implications for Cupertino’s SB 35 Project

It is unclear at this point what impact the ruling will have on other SB 35 litigation cases in California.

Ryan Patterson, an attorney with Zacks Freedman & Patterson, which represented CaRLA in the Los Altos case, told the Mercury News, “It means that there will probably be more affordable housing proposed, or projects including more affordable housing, and they’ll be approved. It’s a cautionary tale for any city that might consider denying a project on technicalities.”

Notably, Williams is also the presiding judge on the Vallco Town Center redevelopment litigation. In that case, local anti-growth group Friends of Better Cupertino is suing Cupertino’s approval of the project under SB 35.

The Vallco Town Center redevelopment is a mixed-use project that, when finished would feature 2,402 residential units – including more than 1,200 at affordable levels. Demolition at Vallco is well underway, including recent removal of the bridge over Wolfe Road.

William’s ruling on that project is expected in coming weeks or months, following a delay due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

5 Comments on "SB 35 project wins legal battle in Los Altos"

  1. Janet M. Lowy | May 1, 2020 at 1:21 am | Reply

    How can we get rid of SB35 at this point?

  2. Rebeca Gallardo | May 1, 2020 at 3:58 pm | Reply

    @Janet: By somehow convincing the state legislature that run away housing costs and an increasing number of homeless people are actually good for the state and that therefore we don’t need any more houses built anywhere. Existing homeowners’ equities must go up, the poor be damned!

  3. The flaws in this project is immense. It’s too bad the city bungled the rejection so much. It’s not easy to tell if SB35 truly required such an out of place development or if the state law was so vague that they didn’t know how to fit into the acceptable rejections. One
    telling point is that the developer counts residential parking spaces as habitable square footage to meet the proportions required to count under SB35. Should this be allowed? The developer is after the commercial space, and built it with absolutely no parking. Should commercial space be allowed like that? Do we need more office space? The thing that the property is in a parking district which entitles previous owners to purchase passes to let a few employees park in the spaces from that district. But there isn’t enough space to allow so many large COMMERCIAL developments to fit into the parking district.

    No this isn’t helping provide housing because it causes more need for housing than it provides, even with providing 15 units of upper story apartments in a totally commercial district.

  4. Another issue concerns visitor parking for the residences. Will the residence owners try to purchase parking passes? There aren’t any other apartments in the parking district. What a mess.

  5. Excellent news! We need to build up and get on top of this housing shortage. Build, baby, build!

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