Urban Habitat Decision Invalidates Housing Cap and Mandates Affordable Housing Development

After four years of litigation, including a successful trip to the Court of Appeal, the Superior Court of Alameda County in September of last year ordered the City of Pleasanton to cease enforcement of its voter-approved cap on housing and require affordable housing development. Passed in 1996, the cap made it impossible for the City to provide for its share of the regional need for housing affordable to lower income households as required under State Housing Element Law.  Pleasanton is a regional center for the technology industry, adding thousands of jobs each year. Yet, despite the growing need to accommodate residential development, the city has maintained an absolute cap on housing resulting in exclusion of lower income families and a lack of housing for the city’s growing workforce. The suit was brought by Sandra de Gregorio, a mother of two, and Urban Habitat Programs, an environmental and social justice organization.  Plaintiffs were represented by The Public Interest Law Project (PILP), Public Advocates, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, and Munger, Tolles & Olson.  The state Attorney General intervened in the case and a parallel suit involving CEQA violations.

The trial court ordered all policies capping residential development removed from Pleasanton’s general plan and compelled the City to rezone sufficient developable sites to meet its lower income housing need.  The court also enjoined the City from issuing commercial building permits until it complied with the court’s order.  To settle the remaining claims in the suit, the City agreed to a settlement providing that it will adopt: a new housing element within a year to accommodate its affordable housing need, a Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a resolution that it will not discriminate against affordable housing. Finally, the settlement ensures that at least 130 units of housing affordable to very low income households will be developed in a mixed use development.

The case has statewide importance as the ruling puts other jurisdictions on notice that local residential growth restrictions could violate the Housing Element Law. The Court of Appeal in 2008 had overturned the dismissal of the case by the previous trial court judge.  Significantly, the court found that the City’s growth cap had become inconsistent with the Housing Element Law when Pleasanton was allocated a share of the regional housing need that was impossible to accommodate under the cap.

Urban Habitat Program v. City of Pleasanton, 164 Cal.App.4th 1561 (2008).)

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