Bob Moss, Tom Jordan and a newly formed association, Citizens for Upholding Zoning Regulations, assert in the suit filed last Thursday that the city failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act and the city's zoning and planning laws when it approved Hohbach's project.
"A lot of us are just totally fed up with that project and the way that it was approved, and that includes four-ninths of the City Council and the staff," Moss said.
The three-story, 150,000-square-foot research-and-development building with 84 apartments on top was conceived by Hohbach and received sharp criticism from many neighbors for being oversized -- three times larger than existing zoning would normally allow.
The project received a narrow, 5-to-4 council nod (then-Mayor Judy Kleinberg, then-Vice Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto and Councilmembers John Barton and Dena Mossar opposed) on Nov. 20 after Hohbach redesigned it and appealed a planning-department denial.
Moss argues that the city misused a state housing law to allow Hohbach to disobey zoning rules that prohibit residential and mixed-use developments for the site, which is bordered by the Caltrain tracks, Park Boulevard and Page Mill.
Senate Bill 1818 grants design incentives or concessions -- in Hohbach's case, that meant allowing housing and more square footage -- in return for providing a certain percentage of below-market-rate housing units. Hohbach agreed to build 20 percent, or about 16, of the 84 apartments as below-market-rate.
"You are not expected to violate existing zoning and land-use regulations," Moss said. "He asked for concessions against what the law allows."
City Attorney Gary Baum said he has only done an initial review of the suit, but added, "Our feeling is it's without merit. There are no legal grounds to overturn this project."
Hohbach, whose Court House Plaza Company has developed several other projects in the California Avenue area, said he was "disappointed" but "not terribly surprised" about the lawsuit.
He believes Moss and Jordan are misinterpreting the state law.
"They're saying that I can't get any concessions for using SB1818, and I disagree with that," he said.
The suit, backed by Palo Alto law firm, Miller, Starr & Regalia, also claims that the city granted insufficient time last November for the public to review documents related to the project.
Moss said he put up the money for initial legal fees and that many people have been sending him checks to support the suit.
"Anybody who wants to contribute, we'll accept it," Moss said. "We have to put a stake in the ground, if not in the developer's heart."