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City of San Mateo sued by nonprofit over new housing plan

Plan to build housing on Peninsula parking lot met with pushback
Plan to build housing on Peninsula parking lot met with pushback 03:29

Just one day after the San Mateo City Council adopted a new housing plan, a nonprofit and San Francisco-based law firm has filed a lawsuit against the city.

The Housing Action Coalition (HAC) and Farella Braun + Martel LLP is challenging the city's recently adopted Housing Element, which requires local governments to adequately plan to meet housing needs of community members. 

Tom Mayhew, the attorney representing HAC, argues the city is not following state law by not backing up its claims that housing sites are realistically available with substantial evidence.

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

The Housing Element adopted by San Mateo City Council provides a plan for more than 10,000 new housing units from 2023 - 2031. It identified more than 200 housing opportunity sites with the capacity for more than 10,286 new housing units.

The city of San Mateo responded to the lawsuit by releasing a statement on Wednesday.

"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 city stated.

On Wednesday, HAC released a statement announcing the lawsuit.

"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," HAC stated. "San Mateo's inventory adopted last night claimed no zoning changes were required to meet its goals, listing properties where existing businesses are likely to continue as potential sites for new housing. For example, the City listed most of the parking lot of the popular Bridgepointe Shopping Center as a housing opportunity site, ignoring that the restaurants and retail stores that surround the lot have a right to use the parking lot for their customers, and that a long-term agreement prohibits residential construction on the parking lot."

When asked to provide comment on the lawsuit on Thursday, San Mateo City Manager Alex Khojikian sent the following statement.

"On May 20, 2024, the City of San Mateo adopted a new Housing Element that the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), which oversees the development of housing elements statewide, found to be in substantial compliance with state law in January 2024. While it is now the subject of a lawsuit filed one day after its passage, the new Housing Element provides a plan for more than 10,200 new housing units, significantly exceeding its legally required housing allocation of 7,015 units.

The Housing Element reflects the City Council's priority for providing more housing to meet community needs, with a focus on increasing affordable housing opportunities. Additionally, the City is moving forward with a Housing Opportunities Overlay District that would allow certain housing projects by-right. This would allow housing projects with at least 20 percent of its units affordable to lower income households at certain locations around the City would be approved ministerially (no discretion). The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on May 28 to discuss the proposed overlay district, with a City Council public hearing anticipated in June.

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

In addition to the progressive Housing Element, which exceeds state law requirements, the City Council adopted its new General Plan 2040 in March 2024, which would create additional capacity beyond the Housing Element for 19,700 new housing units, subject to voter approval this fall. Voter approval is necessary to alter a prior ballot measure that restricts the height and density of new development in San Mateo."

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