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Woodside decides it's not a mountain lion habitat, allows developers to propose housing under SB 9

Town cited status as a habitat for a protected species as exemption from new state law

Woodside put an indefinite hold on all housing projects under Senate Bill 9, California's new split-lot law, citing a clause that exempts building in a mountain lion habitat. Embarcadero Media file photo.

Facing a lawsuit, national attention and a warning from California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the Woodside Town Council on Sunday backpedaled on its recent move to ban all projects under a new state housing law.

The town froze applications two weeks ago, citing a loophole that exempts mountain lion habitats.

Starting Monday, Feb. 7, all applications for California's new split-lot law, Senate Bill 9, will be accepted in Woodside, said Deputy Town Attorney Kai Ruess.

He made the announcement in a report out of a closed session meeting on Sunday, Feb. 6, in which the council discussed a potential lawsuit by Californians for Homeownership, a nonprofit that focuses on local governments that limit the development of housing.

On Jan. 11, the Town Council passed an ordinance that caps the size of units allowed under SB 9 to 800 square feet. The state law allows homeowners to split up single-family lots to build up to four residential units. Woodside also prohibited basements under SB 9 units and excluded development in areas at high risk of wildfires.

Reporter Angela Swartz discussed Woodside's ban on SB 9 projects on Feb. 4, 2022 on KQED.

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Starting on Jan. 25, as first reported by The Almanac, the town put an indefinite hold on all housing projects under SB 9 because of a clause in the law that prohibits development in areas identified as habitats for protected species. The move came after a council study session on the same date, when the council discussed the mountain lion clause, but the council did not formally vote on it, according to interim Town Clerk Melissa Cardinale.

"When the issue was raised at the Jan. 25, 2022, council meeting, the town had not yet received guidance on this question from state authorities," Ruess said. "As a result, the town paused acceptance of SB 9 applications while town staff continued to study and determine the answer to that question."

In the two weeks since the meeting, town staff received guidance from the Department of Fish and Wildlife on how to identify habitat, he said. "The Department of Fish and Wildlife advised that the entire Town of Woodside cannot be considered habitat. As such, the Town Council has directed staff to immediately begin accepting SB 9 applications."

Mountain lions are a protected species because they are a candidate for the California Endangered Species Act and Woodside, in "its entirety" lies within a mountain lion habitat, according to the town. The Fish and Game Commission planned to release a decision on the animals' status in November, but the agency has yet to make that determination.

Ruess noted that "any interim statements made by any individual member of the town council represent personal views that do not represent the collective views of the Town Council."

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"The town of Woodside has consistently exceeded state mandated low and moderate income housing commitments, and the town council remained focused on doing its part to alleviate the regional shortfall in affordable housing," he said.

There were no housing applications submitted to the town under SB 9 before projects applications were halted, according to Bryant.

Lawsuit and state attorney general's message to the town

Matthew Gelfand, legal counsel for Californians for Homeownership, emailed the town on Feb. 2, threatening a lawsuit and called staff's finding "absurd" that every single residential parcel in the town qualifies as mountain lion habitat. He wrote that it also violated SB 330, which prohibits local governments from putting up new barriers to housing production.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta warned town officials on Sunday, Feb. 6, that the effort to declare the town a mountain lion habitat is an attempt to avoid complying with state law.

"There is no valid basis to claim that the entirety of Woodside is a habitat for mountain lions," his office wrote to the town. "Habitat is land that has the capacity to support that species, including providing food and shelter. Land that is already developed — with, for example, a single-family home — is not, by definition, habitat."

In a press release, the Attorney General's office said the mountain lion habitat claim is contrary to the law and contrary to efforts to alleviate the state's affordable housing issues.

In Woodside small homes are currently listed for sale on Zillow at $1 million and up; a 1-bedroom apartment rent is about $2,500 a month.

Response to ban

The council's decision garnered national, and even international, attention, with The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Guardian jumping on the story after The Almanac published it.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, known for his housing advocacy, weighed in on Twitter, saying: ​​"Can't wait for the lawsuit against Woodside for this brazen violation of state law."

Former Woodside mayor Daniel Yost, who served on the council from 2015 to 2020 and has lived in town for 19 years, told The Almanac ​​"no one should believe for a second this (decision) is driven by mountain lion concerns."

"In my years in that I served on council, I never heard even a slight mention of preserving the mountain lion habitat," he said. "I heard about a fair share of concerns about housing; that’s what is driving this. … What I love about Woodside is we're creative problem solvers. We haven't hid behind cats as an excuse to take away residents' rights to modify or expand their housing (in the past)."

Yost noted that the "excellent" Woodside Elementary School's enrollment figures are declining because families can't afford to move to town.

The TK-8 grade public school has 365 students. Enrollment is down almost 11% from the 2018-19 school year, according to Almanac reporting this past fall.

"We trust that communities will find a way to balance protecting sensitive habitat with providing needed housing," said Cydney Bieber, a public affairs specialist for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, which acquires and preserves more than 65,000 acres of open space in the region, in an email last week.

Last week, two residents in neighboring Portola Valley asked the Town Council to take similar action as Woodside in a Feb. 1 letter to town officials.

Los Altos Hills Mayor George Tyson said in an email that he has not heard from any residents wishing to emulate Woodside’s action, and his City Council has not met to discuss it.

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Bay City News contributed to this report. Angela Swartz writes for The Almanac, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Angela Swartz joined The Almanac in 2018 and covers education and small towns. She has a background covering education, city politics and business. Read more >>

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Woodside decides it's not a mountain lion habitat, allows developers to propose housing under SB 9

Town cited status as a habitat for a protected species as exemption from new state law

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Mon, Feb 7, 2022, 9:53 am

Facing a lawsuit, national attention and a warning from California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the Woodside Town Council on Sunday backpedaled on its recent move to ban all projects under a new state housing law.

The town froze applications two weeks ago, citing a loophole that exempts mountain lion habitats.

Starting Monday, Feb. 7, all applications for California's new split-lot law, Senate Bill 9, will be accepted in Woodside, said Deputy Town Attorney Kai Ruess.

He made the announcement in a report out of a closed session meeting on Sunday, Feb. 6, in which the council discussed a potential lawsuit by Californians for Homeownership, a nonprofit that focuses on local governments that limit the development of housing.

On Jan. 11, the Town Council passed an ordinance that caps the size of units allowed under SB 9 to 800 square feet. The state law allows homeowners to split up single-family lots to build up to four residential units. Woodside also prohibited basements under SB 9 units and excluded development in areas at high risk of wildfires.

Starting on Jan. 25, as first reported by The Almanac, the town put an indefinite hold on all housing projects under SB 9 because of a clause in the law that prohibits development in areas identified as habitats for protected species. The move came after a council study session on the same date, when the council discussed the mountain lion clause, but the council did not formally vote on it, according to interim Town Clerk Melissa Cardinale.

"When the issue was raised at the Jan. 25, 2022, council meeting, the town had not yet received guidance on this question from state authorities," Ruess said. "As a result, the town paused acceptance of SB 9 applications while town staff continued to study and determine the answer to that question."

In the two weeks since the meeting, town staff received guidance from the Department of Fish and Wildlife on how to identify habitat, he said. "The Department of Fish and Wildlife advised that the entire Town of Woodside cannot be considered habitat. As such, the Town Council has directed staff to immediately begin accepting SB 9 applications."

Mountain lions are a protected species because they are a candidate for the California Endangered Species Act and Woodside, in "its entirety" lies within a mountain lion habitat, according to the town. The Fish and Game Commission planned to release a decision on the animals' status in November, but the agency has yet to make that determination.

Ruess noted that "any interim statements made by any individual member of the town council represent personal views that do not represent the collective views of the Town Council."

"The town of Woodside has consistently exceeded state mandated low and moderate income housing commitments, and the town council remained focused on doing its part to alleviate the regional shortfall in affordable housing," he said.

There were no housing applications submitted to the town under SB 9 before projects applications were halted, according to Bryant.

Matthew Gelfand, legal counsel for Californians for Homeownership, emailed the town on Feb. 2, threatening a lawsuit and called staff's finding "absurd" that every single residential parcel in the town qualifies as mountain lion habitat. He wrote that it also violated SB 330, which prohibits local governments from putting up new barriers to housing production.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta warned town officials on Sunday, Feb. 6, that the effort to declare the town a mountain lion habitat is an attempt to avoid complying with state law.

"There is no valid basis to claim that the entirety of Woodside is a habitat for mountain lions," his office wrote to the town. "Habitat is land that has the capacity to support that species, including providing food and shelter. Land that is already developed — with, for example, a single-family home — is not, by definition, habitat."

In a press release, the Attorney General's office said the mountain lion habitat claim is contrary to the law and contrary to efforts to alleviate the state's affordable housing issues.

In Woodside small homes are currently listed for sale on Zillow at $1 million and up; a 1-bedroom apartment rent is about $2,500 a month.

The council's decision garnered national, and even international, attention, with The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Guardian jumping on the story after The Almanac published it.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, known for his housing advocacy, weighed in on Twitter, saying: ​​"Can't wait for the lawsuit against Woodside for this brazen violation of state law."

Former Woodside mayor Daniel Yost, who served on the council from 2015 to 2020 and has lived in town for 19 years, told The Almanac ​​"no one should believe for a second this (decision) is driven by mountain lion concerns."

"In my years in that I served on council, I never heard even a slight mention of preserving the mountain lion habitat," he said. "I heard about a fair share of concerns about housing; that’s what is driving this. … What I love about Woodside is we're creative problem solvers. We haven't hid behind cats as an excuse to take away residents' rights to modify or expand their housing (in the past)."

Yost noted that the "excellent" Woodside Elementary School's enrollment figures are declining because families can't afford to move to town.

The TK-8 grade public school has 365 students. Enrollment is down almost 11% from the 2018-19 school year, according to Almanac reporting this past fall.

"We trust that communities will find a way to balance protecting sensitive habitat with providing needed housing," said Cydney Bieber, a public affairs specialist for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, which acquires and preserves more than 65,000 acres of open space in the region, in an email last week.

Last week, two residents in neighboring Portola Valley asked the Town Council to take similar action as Woodside in a Feb. 1 letter to town officials.

Los Altos Hills Mayor George Tyson said in an email that he has not heard from any residents wishing to emulate Woodside’s action, and his City Council has not met to discuss it.

Bay City News contributed to this report. Angela Swartz writes for The Almanac, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2022 at 11:14 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Feb 7, 2022 at 11:14 am

I'm sure they will not be the first to try and find a way around this. The idea that an established elite community has to be forced to go against the wishes of those who can afford and possibly need exclusivity are being forced into this is not right in my opinion.

It is quite a while ago now, but I remember when Barbra Streisand had to go to court to prevent aircraft flying across the ocean near her home with tourists on flights to see stars homes. I am sure I have heard of similar stories of bus loads of tourists on tours to see the stars' homes.

I am no celebrity, but if I was, I would want my home to be free from neighbors touting apartments as Live Next Door to ____ . Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs have done what they can to give themselves some privacy. It seems that Woodside residents would like to do the same. Can't say that this is going to end here.


sequoiadean
Registered user
Los Altos
on Feb 7, 2022 at 1:18 pm
sequoiadean, Los Altos
Registered user
on Feb 7, 2022 at 1:18 pm

I think all of the environmentally aware residents of Woodside, who care so much for the mountain lion, should donate all of their property to the "Woodside mountain lion preserve" and move to downtown San Jose.


We Are The People
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Feb 7, 2022 at 1:18 pm
We Are The People, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Feb 7, 2022 at 1:18 pm

Woodside has more than enough Land to provide Affordable Housing?
Why is it that in areas where the Humans have more than enough, do not want
to Share? In fact they can build enough Housing in certain areas, where they
would not have to ever SEE the people. Its amounting into looking like an exclusive
Segregation Club of sorts. The Rich & The Poor. If NOT the very Middle Class that are
The prime "Back Bone" of this Country?
Just my opinion?


Elaine
Registered user
Los Altos
on Feb 7, 2022 at 1:36 pm
Elaine, Los Altos
Registered user
on Feb 7, 2022 at 1:36 pm

Woodside should be ashamed for wasting the Attorney General's time and money. It is time for them to realize that laws apply to rich people too! Every Bay Area community needs to take responsibility for the current housing crisis.


Carol
Registered user
another community
on Feb 7, 2022 at 2:32 pm
Carol, another community
Registered user
on Feb 7, 2022 at 2:32 pm

My Ecology and Field Biology text states
“The place where an organism lives and its surroundings, both living and nonliving, is its habitat.” It also says the mountain lion of North America feeds on deer. This may help explain why the townspeople spot them. Anyone who looks carefully in the fields from 280 can often spot deer. So food awaits them passing properties.

My mother had lived in Woodside for many years. She was raised by a Montana homesteader (land courtesy of President Taft), who had in turn been raised by a homesteader in the Oklahoma Panhandle. That is why she didn’t dig neighbors! She had a deep, deep love of animals. Please avoid stereotyping Woodside residents.


Anonymous
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 7, 2022 at 2:59 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Feb 7, 2022 at 2:59 pm

SB 9 was a garbage bill, giveaway to developers.
I applaud Woodside for bringing up the state’s own rules re: wildlie habitats - why not?


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 7, 2022 at 3:03 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Feb 7, 2022 at 3:03 pm

It was/is a garbage bill. There's also no public transportation to/from Woodside to places of employment.


Mike trobe
Registered user
Los Altos Hills
on Feb 7, 2022 at 5:29 pm
Mike trobe, Los Altos Hills
Registered user
on Feb 7, 2022 at 5:29 pm

This is unfair. Los Altos Hills and other communities along 280 haven’t changed in 50+ years. It’s the communities along 101 that decided to build office buildings like crazy. Communities along 101 should have to build housing to go along with the offices they’ve built.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Feb 7, 2022 at 5:57 pm
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Feb 7, 2022 at 5:57 pm

"A mountain lion habitat." An attempt to avoid complying with state law is correct. Hiding behind cats is comical.


TimR
Registered user
Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2022 at 6:42 pm
TimR, Downtown North
Registered user
on Feb 7, 2022 at 6:42 pm

Given the high number of compounds in Woodside, many lots already have multiple dwelling units on them. So it's not like SB9 is a big change in that regard (seems more like the norm). As for being able to split lots, isn't that only for "urban" areas, and not more rural areas like Woodside?


Anonymous
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Feb 7, 2022 at 8:15 pm
Anonymous, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Feb 7, 2022 at 8:15 pm

Great to see another win of SB 9! Slowly but surely, NIMBY-ism will be rolled back.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Feb 8, 2022 at 6:07 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Feb 8, 2022 at 6:07 am

I agree with the first Anonymous (Duvenck/St. Francis) and Online Name. SB9 is a lousy bill. Think twice if you like SB9 b/c the underlying punch is that it eliminates local control. That is wholly bad. Sacramento is outta control and not really coming up with solutions that address the problem.

Also, it is time to retire the terms NIMBY and YIMBY. The path to affordable housing is complicated and divisive enough without layering on insults and stereotypes.


Local parent
Registered user
another community
on Feb 8, 2022 at 10:14 am
Local parent, another community
Registered user
on Feb 8, 2022 at 10:14 am

"Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good" - Voltaire

SB9 & 10 are not perfect laws, which is impossible, but at least have good intentions of increasing housing since almost every community in the state has been doing what they can to prohibit housing development for 50 years despite the massive job growth.

It's unfortunate that laws are needed to force towns to do the right thing, a little at a time. We need more of that.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 8, 2022 at 10:33 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Feb 8, 2022 at 10:33 am

You do realize that homeowners are disadvantaged against developers when it comes to conversions?

Also, do you see the contradiction in your post about "prohibiting housing despite the massive job growth"?? There have been many attempts to moderate the "massive job growth" by curbing office development so the jobs/housing imbalance doesn't keep getting so skewed. PA even passed a ballot initiative to cap office growth about 6 years ago BUT the well-funded PRO-DEVELOPMENT figured out a workaround so office growth continued to spiral, pushing up prices even more!

If nothing's done to limit office/jobs growth, you can pave over all of Silicon Valley still never have enough housing and certainly not affordable housing given the price of land here.

So where's the "good" intentions when big companies like Google and Facebook add a few housing units so they can get some pr WHILE adding millions of sq feet of new offices for more workers?

See also PT Barnum.


S. Underwood
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Feb 8, 2022 at 11:47 am
S. Underwood, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Feb 8, 2022 at 11:47 am

"Also, it is time to retire the terms NIMBY and YIMBY." I jokingly call myself a YIYBY (pronounced yee-bee).

I am personally against SB9, but acknowledge that it's a very thorny set of issues at play here. A Sacramento mandate that would turn any lot into a multi-unit housing complex with no consideration for broader community impact is not the answer.

Environmental studies, traffic studies, environmental reviews, infrastructure considerations, offsets, even things like architectural review boards... sure, it seems like we have out of control paperwork for everything in California, but those functions exist for a reason.

Given that one party in effect controls everything, they need to but their best think-tank minds together and come up with something better.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 10, 2022 at 10:30 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 10:30 pm

Anybody who drives through Woodside knows that the roads are very narrow and have a lot of vegetation next to the roads. Most of the homes have horses in sectioned off pastures. This is horse country. It is also an area with a lot of very large trees - we protect trees and horses. People who live in port areas have boats - that is boat country. [Portion removed.]

For those people who pop in from other parts of the country the whole point of living in CA is to have sections that support the hobbies and business interest available to the tax paying residents. A better argument would be the high fire danger - similar to Oakland Hills - narrow roads and lot of trees, many horses which would be subject to great danger in a fire. Getting people and horses out of there in an emergency would be difficult. Any fire in that area would result in a total disaster and probably directly affect SU property that is in proximity in the hills. Land management requires common sense and a good evaluation of the risks and responsibilities in the area.

Mr. Bonta will be up for election this upcoming period since his job is the result of an appointment. Since he seems more focused in protecting Mr. Weiner's flank as opposed to focusing on the rising crime rate affecting the taxpayer's flanks then he is not thinking very clearly about what his job is all about. The taxpayers are concerned with crime and that is supposed to be his job. If he is not talking and doing the job then he will be voted out.


KarlWolff
Registered user
Portola Valley
on Feb 11, 2022 at 12:44 pm
KarlWolff, Portola Valley
Registered user
on Feb 11, 2022 at 12:44 pm

The liberal establishment and their ersatz, imported voters don’t care what happens to your community...


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 12, 2022 at 8:22 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Feb 12, 2022 at 8:22 am

SFC 02/12/22 - "Getting around laws on housing". Very extensive article with state- wide examples. I have extended family who live in the Eastlake, Chula Vista Development - part of the Otay Mesa Ranch. When the developers wanted to add an additional 40 acres going eastward for additional building then AG Becerra sued them to stop - citing fire danger. If you look at the pictures on the web what fire danger is he referring to? What we are looking at is political maneuvering that defies logic. The Housing Advocates are picking and choosing their targets with the assistance of the state legislature.

The State Legislature is not looking at the Water Problem - though it is discussed in great detail in the news. It is doing nothing for the Transportation problem - though it is discussed in the news. All of the attendant elements to Housing are not being addressed by the Housing Advocates or the Legislature. The Gov. is caving to "advocates" vs the tax-paying residents and city managers.

We did not elect Bonta - he was appointed by Newsome with prodding by Weiner. And our own Assembly reps have gone along for the ride. Time for the Cities and Residents to take back our state. Right now it is like a bean bag being tossed around by people who arrived in state just to destroy it.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 13, 2022 at 7:06 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Feb 13, 2022 at 7:06 am

Karl - your community of Portola Valley has been in the cross=hairs of builders - notably SU that wants to build housing there. One could say that builders do not care about anyone's community. Note the Real Estate Section of the papers - commercial land is being bought by out-of-state-companies to lease to our start-ups. I get solicitations in the mail about companies that want to buy my house. The Bay Area has a target on its back - everyone's back. The bigger cities create those targets - SF, SJ. We need to collectively pay attention to ward off the "carpet baggers" of old.
Assuming that other locations in the US are now all on the same level of development then arguments about the desirability of the bay area are dimming.


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