Roar! Wealthy Bay Area town says mountain lions prevent more housing

Critics call it an example of how far some cities will go to evade state law

(iStock, Illustration by Kevin Cifuentes for The Real Deal)
(iStock, Illustration by Kevin Cifuentes for The Real Deal)

Woodside, a Bay Area town where single-family homes cost $4.6 million, says it has a good reason not to comply with a state law that aims to boost housing: mountain lions.

Accessory dwelling units, known as Senate Bill 9 projects, won’t get building permits as long as the big cats are a candidate for the area’s endangered species list, the San Francisco Chronicle said, citing a Jan. 27 memo from Jackie Young, Woodside’s planning director. Enacted last month, SB 9 allows duplexes of at least 800 square feet per residential parcel and also allows large lots to be split into fourplexes.

The backlash wasn’t long in coming.

“I’m all for mountain lions,” State Senator Scott Wiener, who’s made housing his focus in recent years, tweeted on Feb. 2. “I’m also for people. You know, the ones who need homes. Can’t wait for the lawsuit against Woodside for this brazen violation of state law.”

The California Fish and Game Commission is reviewing a petition to add the animal to the endangered list, the Chronicle said. It’s waiting on a review from the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, the commission’s Melissa Miller-Henson told the newspaper. That report has been in the works for 18 months and is almost done.

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Once the commission receives it, the public will have at least 30 days to review it. The commission will then have up to 90 days to make its decision. Any SB 9 project application, meantime, is on hold, the Chronicle said. Kevin Bryant, Woodside’s town manager, didn’t respond to the newspaper’s request for comment

Midway between San Francisco and San Jose and mostly west of Highway 280, Woodside has a population of about 5,000 and a history as a horse community. Home values rose 11 percent year-over-year through December, Zillow data show. The entire town is a mountain lion habitat, making none of its parcels eligible for ADU projects, Young’s memo said.

“This is so absurd,” Laura Foote of YIMBY Action, which advocates for abundant housing, told the Chronicle. “It’s an example of the extreme, absurd lengths cities will evade state law.”

Rafa Sonnenfeld, director of legal advocacy for YIMBY, sent a letter of complaint to the State Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday. He told the Chronicle that SB 9 has language that protects the rural quality of places like Woodside, saying that it’s a “clear attempt by the town of Woodside to thwart housing laws in the middle of a housing emergency.”

[San Francisco Chronicle] — Matthew Niksa

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