Infamous 315-Unit Lafayette Housing Development Finally Approved

One of the most dramatic examples of anti-development politics in California case to a sudden and dramatic conclusion this week, when the California State Supreme Court declined “to hear an appeal from a neighborhood group attempting to stop the development of a 315-unit apartment building in Lafayette,” according to an article by Danielle Echeverria for the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Terraces of Lafayette development is a “poster child” of the dividing lines between sides of the housing debate in California, according to the article. The book Golden Gates, by Conor Dougherty (one of Planetizen’s top planning books of 2020), credits the controversy over the development for the inception of a new era in pro-development politics, with the popularization of a specific branch of the YIMBY movement known as “Sue the Suburbs.” The project weathered “two lawsuits, a ballot referendum and over 100 public hearings,” from inception to this court ruling.

The initial political resistance of the development plan forced developers to reduce the size of the project from 315 units to 44 homes in 2015. The plan was reborn with its full complement of housing units in 2020.

“The project will have 20% of its 315 units set aside for lower income households, qualifying it as an affordable project under the state’s Housing Accountability Act, which bars local governments from denying or repeatedly delaying housing development projects for very low, low-, or moderate-income households,” adds Echeverria. “The law was a key to the project’s ultimate success.”

The lawsuit in question this week relied on opposition powers granted by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which in the past was enough to derail projects like this. CEQA is still preventing development in California, to be sure, as exemplified by a recent court ruling overturning a development plan on the same side of the bay in Berkeley, out of concern for noise pollution created by students.

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