Richmond sued for failing to comply with state housing mandates

Richmond mayor, vice mayor face backlash over anti-Israel resolution 
Richmond City Hall (Photo credit: Mike Kinney)

A dozen Bay Area jurisdictions including Richmond and Pinole are being sued by housing advocacy groups for failing to comply with state mandates to create new housing.

On Friday, Feb. 3, three pro-housing nonprofit organizations — YIMBY Law, the California Housing Defense Fund (CHDF) and Californians for Homeownership – filed lawsuits against the cities of Belvedere, Burlingame, Cupertino, Daly City, Fairfax, Martinez, Novato, Palo Alto, Pinole, Pleasant Hill, Richmond and Santa Clara County, according to a joint statement. Housing advocates raised awareness about the lawsuits on social media and through an opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The aim of the lawsuits, the groups say, is to force the cities to comply with state law, which required jurisdictions to adopt a housing element by Jan. 31 describing how they plan to complete their share of the state’s goal to create 2.5 million homes by 2030.

Penalties can include court-imposed fines of up to $100,000 per month, the withholding of grant funds and the imposition of the “builder’s remedy,” noted recently termed-out Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. The builder’s remedy allows developers to bypass local planning and zoning approvals in cities that haven’t planned for housing as required by the state, as long as at least 20 percent of a project’s homes are low-income or 100 percent of them are moderate-income.

“This is just one more example of the City not taking care of business due to a City Council controlled by the RPA [Richmond Progressive Alliance] who have other priorities,” Butt said.

Over 90 of the Bay Area’s 109 cities, counties and towns “had at least submitted a first draft of the housing element” by the Jan. 31 deadline, a representative of the Association of Bay Area Governments that helped develop the Bay Area’s overall housing plan told the Chronicle.

Richmond and Pinole join American Canyon, Belvedere and Novato in adopting housing elements without the required review by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), according to YIMBY Law. “That’s illegal,” the group states.

Meanwhile, Alameda County, Daly City, Fairfax, Half Moon Bay, Martinez, Newark, Pacifica, Pittsburg, Santa Clara County and Vallejo “never published a draft,” stated YIMBY Law.

Other jurisdictions were noted for starting the process too late, or having their drafts rejected by the HCD. 

Local development standards “have historically made it difficult to build housing developments – especially those that include housing for lower-income households,” according to YIMBY Law.

“There’s no excuse for these cities to be in violation of state law,” said YIMBY Law Executive Director Sonja Trauss. “Cities have had years to plan for this. They’ve also received resources and feedback from us, our volunteer watchdogs, and HCD.

Trauss added that the cities are trying to “push the responsibility onto other communities and avoid having to welcome new neighbors.”

CHDF said the 12 lawsuits are only the first round, as more will be filed in the coming weeks. But the initial lawsuits “focus on cities with a long history of exclusionary housing practices, cities that adopted housing elements unlawfully, and localities that have made little progress in developing their draft housing elements,” according to the organization.