SAN FRANCISCO (May 19, 2020) – Holland & Knight has won a landmark housing case in California, becoming the first law firm in the state to use a cutting-edge new housing law to compel approval of a development project. The new law, Senate Bill (SB) 35, encourages housing by fast-tracking the permitting process for projects that meet qualifying requirements, such as providing affordable housing, paying prevailing wages and complying with a city's objective zoning standards.
Holland & Knight attorneys Daniel Golub and Genna Yarkin represented property owners 40 Main Street Offices LLC in suing the city of Los Altos for denying a development that included affordable housing, in violation of SB 35. This victory marks the first order by any California court granting a writ of mandate against a city for denying a SB 35 application.
After the property owners tried for more than five years to develop the downtown site without success, the Holland & Knight team prepared an application to seek ministerial approval for a 29,566-square-foot, 66-foot-tall mixed-use project that will include first-floor office space and a mix of affordable and market-rate housing above. The team also invoked the State Density Bonus Law to seek increased building height in exchange for providing below-market affordable units.
Although the project qualified for ministerial approval, the city rejected the application, making litigation necessary. Housing advocacy groups California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund and the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation also brought suit to challenge the city's failure, and their suit was consolidated into Holland & Knight case.
Judge Helen Williams of Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled on April 24 against the city, agreeing with the team's legal arguments and finding the city had violated SB 35, the Density Bonus Law, and the Housing Accountability Act. The court also held that the city of Los Altos acted in bad faith in rejecting the project and ordered the city to immediately issue permits to build the project. The court entered judgment on May 12.
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