Several local housing organizations filed suit this week against multiple Bay Area cities and Santa Clara County for failing to deliver required plans to ensure the region meets anticipated housing needs over the next eight years. Each Bay Area municipality and county had until January 31, 2023 to submit a State-approved Housing Element, a component of its General Plan. These legally required documents serve as a jurisdiction’s blueprint for how it intends to plan for housing development over the next eight-year cycle. Counties, cities, and towns struggled to meet the deadline, and many have yet to submit a State-approved plan.
Three nonprofit organizations involved in housing advocacy, YIMBY Law, the California Housing Defense Fund, and Californians for Homeownership, have initiated 12 lawsuits against noncompliant local governments. The defendants include localities like Belvedere, Burlingame, Cupertino, Daly City, Fairfax, Martinez, Novato, Palo Alto, Pinole, Pleasant Hill, Richmond and Santa Clara County.
Noncompliance may carry significant consequences for a local government’s authority over land use decisions in its jurisdiction. As the January 31 deadline came and went, so too did noncompliant local governments’ capacity to restrict future development with local zoning codes. In other words, a “builder’s remedy” allows proposed developments in noncompliant jurisdictions to ignore local zoning ordinances like limits on height and density, parking requirements, and setbacks.
As this process played out in southern California in 2021 and 2022, a set of similar lawsuits resulted in settlements requiring the noncompliant local governments to adopt compliant housing elements by certain dates, or to agree to other terms such as pursuing changes to local height limits.