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Developer Sues Millbrae Over Proposed Housing at Historic El Rancho Inn

MILLBRAE (KPIX) -- A Peninsula city with a history of not meeting its housing goals, Millbrae is now being sued for it.

"To bring together a housing project has gotten incredibly difficult in the last 10-15 years. And I don't expect that to get any easier," said Andy Davidson, Managing Partner for Anton Development.

Davidson and the team at Anton are trying to redevelop the historic El Rancho Inn near the San Francisco Airport.

The bureaucratic back and forth between Anton and the city has lasted four years and neither side has anything to show for it. Now Anton is suing the city of Millbrae.

"We're really looking for a referee; someone to call the play as it is and let's get moving forward," Davidson said.

It all started back in 2017. Anton intended to build 220 market-rate units and 50 units of affordable housing plus an onsite hotel. But then the hotel partnership fell through.

Anton says that was because the city moved too slowly with the approval process.

"So if application takes too long, you lose whatever commitment from whatever hotel brand you're working with," explained Davidson.

In the midst of all of this, the state passed SB 330, also known as the Housing Accountability Act. The law was designed to streamline development where cities push back against affordable housing.

Since there is an affordable housing component to the project, Anton invoked the new law, saying it allows them to circumvent the rezoning process and save a lot of money.

"The developer wants to try to pull a fast one," said Sam Singer, a spokesperson for the city of Millbrae.

What Singer means by pulling a fast one is that the developer is using the new law as a loophole to try to avoid paying the $18 million in development fees.

Singer's presence should signal how serious the dispute has become. He is nicknamed the "Master of Disaster;" a PR pro who says this case won't hold up in court.

"You can't expect the taxpayers to subsidize a very well to do and successful developer," Singer said.

Singer says when the hotel deal fell through and Anton submitted new plans, it became a different project with higher fees.

"I hate to see taxpayer money go to waste over a lawsuit like this," Davidson said.

"This pisses me off so bad," said Jodie, a woman living in Millbrae.

She stopped by the hotel while KPIX was interviewing Davidson to complain about the development.

"Rich people fight over [expletive[ that we wish we could get a hold of," Jodie said.

Jodie has been on a waiting list for affordable housing for several years, she came over to yell at the developer because only 5% of the project is affordable, she says that won't make a dent.

In her words? These "rich people need to stop fighting and build her a place to live."

"They say they have programs, but the waitlist is thousands. It's hard to get a house if you're not from a wealthy side. Poverty is real," Jodie said.

The state has weighed in and thrown its support behind Anton. Singer says Millbrae supports the project but that Anton needs to play by the rules.

Both parties say they want to see this housing built, but for now they're headed to court rather than breaking ground.

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