Bay Area city caught trying to pull a fast one for housing sites
Orinda included some improbable places to comply with local law
Bay Area cities are trying a lot of nutty tactics to comply with the state’s housing element mandate, but Orinda may be top banana.
The Contra Costa County city was caught listing improbable housing sites in its draft, the East Bay Times reported. The discovery led to roughly 40 sites being pulled out of the final draft at the last minute.
Some of the sites removed wouldn’t have made for good housing sites, even in the eyes of someone with no real estate knowledge.
A 1-foot-piece of land between a road and backyard pool? Maybe for a ladybug. A site next to a water sanitation building? Gross. How about sites shaped like a banana? Not sure many builders have mastered that design yet.
Orinda proposed 300 sites for housing back in December, but it took a group of internet sleuths to expose the obvious issues with the list. Planning Director Drummond Buckley defended the city, saying that county tax records named the scuttled sites as “legal lots” and noting they were in previous housing elements.
With the scandalous sites off the list, the City Council adopted its 2023-31 Housing Element on Tuesday, the day of the deadline to having housing plans approved by the state. It’s not clear if it will be considered in compliance or if there’s wiggle room between a city’s adoption of a plan and a state’s certification of it.
Beginning Feb. 1, Bay Area cities without a compliant housing element would be opened up to builder’s remedy, although legal challenges are expected to follow suit. Builder’s remedy allows developers to bypass local approval for residential projects if at least 20 percent of units are affordable.
Noncompliance can also result in penalties for a city, including the pulling of state funding for housing. Ahead of the deadline, very few Bay Area cities had received approval, although San Francisco was one of them.
Prior to the deadline, California rejected Berkeley’s housing element. The HCD cited concerns about identifying land suitable for residential development, the need for removal of constraints for development and the promotion of fair housing.
Last year brought a memorable challenge to the housing law. Woodside, a wealthy town in California, cited the presence of mountain lions in its rationale for blocking new affordable housing. The California Attorney General shut that down.
— Holden Walter-Warner