Fight over Silicon Valley dream house leads to an unusual legal challenge

Jyothy Reddy and her family spent $2.5 million on a big empty lot in Monte Sereno to build her dream house.

The former tech executive and current real estate developer attacked the project with logic and thoroughness — directing her architect to study home designs in the neighborhood, and to check off each box of the city’s strict planning and zoning rules. She submitted plans to the city, but was met with vocal opposition from a handful of neighbors.

The project failed in two contentious votes, despite revisions and an endorsement from city staff. “It was a very high-techie presentation,” Reddy said of the initial pitch. “We failed miserably.”

Now, in an unusual strategy, Reddy and a nonprofit housing advocacy group are each suing Monte Sereno for possible violations of the state’s recently strengthened Housing Accountability Act, which is designed to encourage development. The suit by the nonprofit YIMBY Law is part of a larger, more aggressive strategy by housing advocates to begin holding cities accountable for even small development decisions amid a statewide housing shortage.

“It’s important to let city attorneys know we’re watching,” said Sonja Trauss, executive director of YIMBY Law in San Francisco, which is asking a judge to overturn the city council’s decision.

The council rejected the plan in June after an emotional public hearing. Three councilmembers said the project design was incompatible with the neighborhood and city standards, and endangered three trees on the property.

YIMBY Law has recently delivered warnings to Sausalito and Culver City in Southern California over other single family home projects. So far, cities have been willing to negotiate approvals of projects rather than spend $10,000 or more fighting the suits, Trauss said.

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The group aims to pressure cities to comply with the Housing Accountability Act, which was updated in 2017 to make it easier to build homes in existing neighborhoods. State law now prohibits cities from rejecting projects that meet local zoning and general plan standards unless a city can prove they are a health and safety hazard.

In Los Altos, another pro-housing group, California Renters Legal Advocacy & Education Fund, successfully sued to force the city to allow an 15-unit apartment and office development on Main Street.

Even for a council decision on a single family homes, Trauss said, a suit “adds a huge amount of risk” for cities to decline projects.

Trauss said the small projects may not add substantial housing to a city, but across the state they can

Source:: East Bay – Entertainment

      

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