A twelve-year saga of pitched battles between housing advocates, developers and an obdurate NIMBY (“Not in My Backyard”) assemblage was finally resolved last month by California’s First District Court of Appeal. In a victory for California housing proponents, the City of Lafayette’s approval of the 315-unit Terraces of Lafayette project has been upheld against the challenges of the Save Lafayette organization, putting an end to an arduous conflict that has been credited with birthing the YIMBY (“Yes in My Backyard”) movement and sparking lawmakers to shore up California’s Housing Accountability Act.
As reported by Miller, Starr & Regalia, the law firm that represented the developer throughout this ordeal, this project began as a 315-unit apartment proposal consisting of 14 residential buildings, a clubhouse, a leasing office, carport and garage parking, and internal roadways. This development was to be built on a 22.27-acre site subject to a general plan designation and zoning that would have allowed a total of 779 units plus a density bonus on the property under a use permit.
This project then endured a labyrinthine review process, starting with Lafayette’s former city manager’s request that the developer consider a density reduction. As a result, the developer and the City of Lafayette entered into an agreement that contemplated an alternative proposal for the construction of 44 or 45 single-family detached homes, public parkland, and other amenities. If this alternative proposal were either not approved or subject to legal challenge, however, this agreement allowed the developer to resume processing the original apartment project.
Based on the scope of the development under this agreement, the City of Lafayette granted several approvals, including, inter alia, the certification of a supplemental EIR. These actions then triggered a series of lawsuits and other opposition tactics by NIMBY groups and others, including a referendum and a campaign for city council, aimed at stopping even the reduced density of this project. As a result, the developer elected to process the original apartment project, as allowed pursuant to its agreement with the City of Lafayette, giving rise to further NIMBY litigation over the sufficiency of the supplemental EIR.
Ultimately, after continued opposition and litigation against the development of the project, the trial court rejected the NIMBY’s petition challenging the EIR, and a three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal ruled unanimously to reject the NIMBY’s appeal in favor of the developer. The ruling hinged on the mandates of the Housing Accountability Act, establishing the value of this legislation in promoting the construction of housing in California, even as this case prodded the legislature to enact SB 167 and SB 330 to further beef up its provisions. Given the torturous process here, the question is whether even more strengthening of state controls over local restrictions against building more housing is needed ().
The ruling in this case (Save Lafayette v. City of Lafayette, et al.) may be found here.