Lafayette: Court affirms housing applicants’ ability to be vested against downzonings

By Daniel R. Golub and Melanie Chaewsky, Holland & Knight, December 20, 2022

“O’Brien Land Company’s more than a decade-long odyssey to build 315 zoning-compliant homes – chronicled in Conor Dougherty’s book Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America – has become the stuff of housing law legend, responsible in large part for the birth of the current ‘Yes in My Backyard’ (YIMBY) pro-housing movement.

“Now, the battle has also yielded an important new partially published California Court of Appeal opinion, Save Lafayette v. City of Lafayette, which affirms [the Housing Accountability Act (HAA) provisions] that housing projects are entitled to be processed on the basis of the zoning in effect at the time of application completeness – and are vested against later-adopted downzonings.

“The Court of Appeal denied a request for rehearing on Dec. 16, 2022, and so the opinion will become a final published opinion unless reviewed by the California Supreme Court.

“Save Lafayette’s primary argument was that the Project conflicted with the General Plan and zoning standards that took effect after the Project site was downzoned in 2015. But the HAA’s express language states that the City was required to apply only the higher-density standards in effect when O’Brien’s application was deemed complete in 2011.

“In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court also rejected Save Lafayette’s CEQA claims, reaffirming that preparing an addendum to a previously certified EIR can be a very defensible CEQA compliance pathway.

“The opinion also continues an important judicial trend – especially in the First District Court of Appeal, with jurisdiction over 12 Northern California counties – of enforcing and applying state housing production laws with an eye toward effectuating the Legislature’s intent of meaningfully limiting the ability of local opposition to block much-needed new housing.

“Notably, the Save Lafayette opinion provides an important new tool to help ensure that future housing projects need not suffer similarly onerous pathways to approval.”

Read the full article here.  (~7 min.)

Read about the background of the case and the Superior Court’s initial decision to uphold the project in the Dec-Jan 2021 Roundup here

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