California’s Newsom, AG slam La Cañada Flintridge in builder’s remedy case

Governor asks to intervene, vowing cities that don’t OK housing “will be held accountable”

Newsom Slams La Cañada Flintridge in Housing Case
Cedar Street Partners Alexandra Hack, Governor Gavin Newsom and Mayor Richard Gunter III with 600 Foothill (LinkedIn, Getty, City of La Cañada Flintridge, Together La Cañada)

UPDATED, Dec. 12, 8:19 p.m.: Builder’s remedy has scored some big backers. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom, California’s attorney general and the state’s housing department have asked to intervene in a court case over the legitimacy of builder’s remedy and Cedar Street Partners’ 80-unit project at 600 Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada Flintridge, according to an announcement on Tuesday. 

“Since California strengthened its housing laws, cities have attempted, unsuccessfully, to skirt these rules,” Newsom said in a statement. “La Cañada Flintridge is another community making excuses rather than building their fair share of housing.

“La Cañada Flintridge will learn, as other communities have, that the status quo is no longer acceptable, and ultimately, they will be held accountable,” Newsom added.

The state officials have asked a court to intervene in the case, according to two court filings, to make the petition that builder’s remedy is legitimate. 

The request is the first time the state has intervened in a court case around builder’s remedy and has publicly singled out a city over the issue. 

“It’s really great to see,” Alexandra Hack, a principal at Cedar Street, said in regards to the state’s request to intervene. “It shows the attorney general is going after jurisdictions that did not do their homework.”

Under the Housing Accountability Act, passed in 1982, there is “a remedy for interested stakeholders to continue with the development of affordable housing projects in jurisdictions that have failed to comply with the statutory deadlines,” attorney general Rob Bonta wrote in a petition, referring to the term colloquially known as builder’s remedy.

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The law says a local agency can only “disapprove an affordable housing project that is inconsistent with both the jurisdiction’s zoning ordinance” if the city has adopted a housing plan that is in “substantial compliance” with state law. 

La Cañada Flintridge, the state argues, was not in compliance, and therefore, lost the right to disapprove an affordable housing project. 

“What was not too long ago viewed as a quixotic and exotic legal strategy has now been mainstreamed by the two most powerful elected officials in the state,” Dave Rand, an attorney at Rand Paster Nelson who has represented a number of developers seeking to use builder’s remedy, said in an email.

The state’s petition is in the California Housing Defense Fund’s suit over the project, court records show. 

However, Cedar Street Partners filed its own suit in July, alleging the city violated state housing law by failing to automatically approve its project. The development firm also asked the court to compel city officials to approve the project. 

The development firm scored a victory last month when Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff rejected a demurrer from the city — a formal objection that attempted to dismiss some of Cedar Street Partners’ original claims. 

In order to qualify for builder’s remedy, housing project must reserve at least 20 percent of the units as affordable for low-income tenants, or the entire project must be affordable for moderate-income tenants.

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