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YIMBY weighs appeal with statewide implications after 469 Stevenson ruling

Sonja Trauss speaks to YIMBY organizers and board members at an event in San Francisco on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. Trauss is the executive director and founder of YIMBY Law, an organization that enforces housing laws in California and facilitates community organizing around housing issues. | Juliana Yamada for The Standard

After a judge shot down an argument that San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors violated state law by delaying approvals for a 500-unit project at 469 Stevenson St., YIMBY Law, the legal arm of the pro-housing supply group YIMBY Action, is plotting its next move. 

YIMBY Law Executive Director Sonja Trauss said the group, which has been leading the charge to sue San Francisco and other cities for what it claims are illegal housing practices, is mulling a few options: Appeal the Superior Court’s ruling that the city didn’t violate state law specifically on the Stevenson Street project, or bring forward more evidence to prove the city’s housing policies and practices consistently break state law. 

“We’re examining our options,” said Trauss, who founded the growing YIMBY movement, which has been successful in the greater Bay Area, even as San Francisco itself has stalled on major housing progress. “One thing we can do is add more examples and bring it back; the other thing we can do is just say forget about it, we just want to appeal your decision on Stevenson.”

Appealing could come at great reward, but also holds a major risk: Appeals courts in California set precedent, so any ruling would carry more weight in California housing law going forward as cities across the state grapple with how to comply with state law amid higher housing mandates and harsher penalties baked into this year’s Housing Element Update process. 

“That’s the nerve-racking thing about going to the appeals court,” Trauss said.

The city could also approve the project—it’s slated to come back to the Planning Department later this year—but Trauss said that wouldn’t stop YIMBY Law's efforts to hold the city accountable for its more general housing transgressions. 

Meanwhile, the state itself has begun investigating San Francisco over the same question Trauss is: Are San Francisco’s housing policies and practices violating state law? 

And if not, are they in poor practice? Rather than bring down the legal hammer immediately, state officials say they hope to take a corrective approach. 

As for the Superior Court’s ruling on the Stevenson half, in which the judge found that the delay didn’t violate state law, Trauss said she finds it egregious.

“Everybody has to follow the rules,” she said.