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YIMBYs bombard Bay Area cities with lawsuits for flouting state rules

New homes are under construction at a Novato housing site on March 23, 2022. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Pro-housing activists filed a barrage of lawsuits against Bay Area cities and counties that they say violated state law by missing a housing deadline.

YIMBY Law, the legal arm of Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) Action, and allied groups have filed 12 lawsuits against Belvedere, Burlingame, Cupertino, Daly City, Fairfax, Martinez, Novato, Palo Alto, Pinole, Pleasant Hill, Richmond and Santa Clara County. 

The activists are gearing up to sue more jurisdictions in an effort to force the “builder’s remedy”—or a loss of local control that lets housing developers circumvent typical zoning rules. 

“There’s no excuse for these cities to be in violation of state law,” said Sonja Trauss, YIMBY Law executive director, in a statement. “Cities have had years to plan for this. […] It’s time for them to be held accountable.”

The lawsuits accuse the Bay Area cities of failing to file a legally compliant Housing Element, or an eight-year housing plan mandated by the state. The groups are now asking courts to establish that those jurisdictions are subject to the builder’s remedy. 

Bay Area developers are already hatching plans to push through new housing developments that otherwise wouldn’t be allowed in those cities. 

Modular units drawn up by architect Adam Mayberry are designed to be stacked and exchanged to fit up to 15 beds. Mayberry said the design could fit in any jurisdiction in the Bay Area. | Courtesy Adam Mayberry

Those potential developments include five-plexes, modular dwellings and other multiunit housing projects that, under normal circumstances, might be subject to tight planning controls in sleepy Bay Area suburbs. 

YIMBY Law filed the lawsuits in Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Marin and San Mateo county superior courts alongside Californians for Homeownership and California Housing Defense Fund; the groups said that more lawsuits are on the way. 

Each of the jurisdictions sued was contacted for comment. 

Michael Cass, a planning manager for Martinez, wrote in an email that the city “will continue to process housing applications received in accordance with federal, state, and local laws.”

“It is important to note that the City has not denied any housing projects for which it has received completed applications,” Cass wrote.