Lawsuits Follow Housing Plan Failures in the San Francisco Bay Area

The Regional Housing Needs Assessment drama continues in California.

2 minute read

February 22, 2023, 12:00 PM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Several office towers are under construction next to a freeway in Burlingame, California.

There was plenty of office construction visible from the Bayshore freeway in 2019. | Sundry Photography / Shutterstock

[Updated, February 23, 2023]

San Francisco Bay Area jurisdictions’ failure to meet the standards required of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) process, as mandated by state law and enforced by regulators at the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), has introduced a wave of new lawsuits.

As reported in February, 30 San Francisco Bay Area cities and counties submitted housing elements, out of 109 total jurisdictions, in time for the January 31 deadline. Of those 30, only four of those plans were approved by HCD, according to figures reported by Globe St., though not everyone agrees on those totals. According to John Goodwin, a representative for the Association of Bay Area Governments, more than 90 of the Bay Area’s 109 local jurisdictions had at least submitted a first draft of their housing element to HCD by the deadline. The failure of the Bay Area’s local jurisdictions in meeting the deadlines, to whatever degree, comes months after they saw Southern California cities suffer the consequences of inaction at an earlier deadline.

The lawsuits quickly followed the abdication of RHNA responsibility, according to a column by Emily Hoeven for the San Francisco Chronicle. Three pro-housing legal nonprofits—YIMBY Law, the California Housing Defense Fund and Californians for Homeownership—filed a total of 12 lawsuits, according to Hoeven: “The three groups are suing Belvedere, Burlingame, Cupertino, Daly City, Fairfax, Martinez, Novato, Palo Alto, Pinole, Pleasant Hill, Richmond and Santa Clara County for failing to follow state law.”

“Most of the local governments targeted by these lawsuits didn’t adopt plans at all, the groups’ legal counsel told me, while others gave the illusion of compliance by greenlighting their own blueprints, even though these plans hadn’t been reviewed by the state Department of Housing and Community Development,” adds Hoeven.

The builder’s remedy, which allows developers to bypass local control of zoning laws, creates a powerful disincentive for cities and counties to fail RHNA compliance, but the YIMBY groups intend for these lawsuits as an extra spur for local governments to act.

[This article was updated to remove a reference to housing construction in Burlingame from the photo caption.]

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