A nonprofit has sued the City of San Mateo over a new housing plan


A nonprofit law company with headquarters in San Francisco has launched a lawsuit against the city of San Mateo, just one day after the council approved a new housing plan.

The city’s recently enacted Housing Element, which mandates that local governments make sufficient plans to address community members’ housing requirements, is being challenged by the Housing Action Coalition (HAC) and Farella Braun + Martel LLP.

The lawyer for HAC, Tom Mayhew, contends that the city is not abiding by state law by failing to provide meaningful proof to support its assertions that housing sites are actually available.

“We want to make sure cities are making their housing plans based on evidence, instead of just hope or speculation,” Mayhew stated.

The San Mateo City Council approved the Housing Element, which lays out a plan for almost 10,000 new homes between 2023 and 2031. With the potential to accommodate more than 10,286 new housing units, it identified more than 200 housing opportunity sites.

On Wednesday, the city of San Mateo released a statement in response to the complaint.

“While the Housing Element is now the subject of a lawsuit filed against the City by the Housing Action Coalition one day after its passage, the plan will be submitted to HCD for formal review to confirm compliance with state law,” the municipality said.

HAC announced the complaint in a statement on Wednesday.

“In its Housing Element, each city and county is required to show that its zoning laws allow enough housing to meet its fair share of the Bay Area need for 2023 – 2031, or to meet a state mandated deadline to make additional zoning changes,” said HAC. “San Mateo’s inventory, which was approved Tuesday night, listed properties where it is anticipated that businesses will remain as suitable locations for new housing and stated that no zoning changes were necessary to achieve the city’s objectives.

For instance, the Bridgepointe Shopping Center’s majority of its parking lot was designated by the City as a housing opportunity site, despite the fact that the surrounding eateries and retail establishments are entitled to use the lot for customer parking and that residential construction is prohibited by a long-term agreement.”

San Mateo City Manager Alex Khojikian sent the following statement on Thursday in response to a request for comment regarding the lawsuit.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), which is in charge of regulating the creation of housing elements throughout the state, determined in January 2024 that the City of San Mateo’s newly adopted housing element was substantially compliant with state law.

The adoption took place on May 20, 2024. The new Housing Element contains a plan for more than 10,200 new housing units, greatly above its legally mandated housing allocation of 7,015 units. However, it is currently the subject of a lawsuit filed one day following its passage.

The City Council prioritizes building more housing to satisfy community needs, with an emphasis on expanding options for affordable housing, which is reflected in the Housing Element. Furthermore, the City is proceeding with the creation of a Housing Opportunities Overlay District, which would grant permission for specific housing developments outright.

According to this, housing projects in specific parts of the city that have at least 20% of their units affordable for lower-class households would be approved by ministers (no discretion). The proposed overlay district will be discussed at a public hearing by the Planning Commission on May 28. A public hearing by the City Council is scheduled for June.

The Housing Element is the last step in the process to receive formal certification from HCD. It was adopted after extensive community engagement through five rounds of public reviews, community workshops, pop-up events, developer and stakeholder roundtables, and feedback from housing advocacy groups. As required by state law, the Housing Element will be submitted to the HCD for formal review.

The City Council approved its revised General Plan 2040 in March 2024, which would add additional capacity beyond the Housing Element for 19,700 new housing units, subject to voter approval this fall. This is in addition to the progressive Housing Element, which surpasses state law standards. A previous ballot proposal that limits the height and density of new building in San Mateo requires voter approval to be changed.”

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