By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – After freezing the implementation of a state housing law by declaring itself a mountain lion sanctuary, the town of Woodside reversed course late Sunday and announced that it would begin accepting housing development applications starting Monday.
“The Department of Fish and Wildlife advised that the entire Town of Woodside cannot be considered habitat,” Woodside officials wrote in a news release late Sunday. “As such, the Town Council has directed staff to immediately begin accepting SB 9 applications.”
The decision came about two weeks after the town of Woodside put a hold on housing project applications under Senate Bill 9. This new split-lot housing law allows homeowners to build up to four housing units on a single-family lot.
As first reported by The Almanac, town officials found a clause in SB 9 that prohibited development on land deemed a habitat for protected species. In a memo sent to residents in January, officials from the bay-area town said that because the municipality “in its entirety” is a habitat for mountain lions, no parcel was eligible for projects under SB 9.
The decision sparked backlash online from lawmakers and housing advocates across the state. The move also caught the attention of Attorney General Rob Bonta, who on Sunday sent a letter to town officials informing them they violated state law, calling it an attempt to “sidestep SB 9 and restrict housing production.”
“Woodside declared its entire suburban town a mountain lion sanctuary in a deliberate and transparent attempt to avoid complying with SB 9,” Mr. Bonta said Sunday. “This memorandum is — quite clearly — contrary to the law, and ironically, contrary to the best interests of the mountain lions the town claims to want to protect.
“My message to Woodside is simple: Act in good faith, follow the law, and do your part to increase the housing supply. If you don’t, my office won’t stand idly by.”
Within a letter sent to Woodside officials from the Attorney’s General’s office on Sunday, officials wrote, “Woodside is deliberately attempting to shut off the supply of new housing opportunities within its borders” by prohibiting applicants from supplying more housing on properties that “are not actually a mountain lion habitat.”
“There is no valid basis to claim that the entirety of Woodside is a habitat for mountain lions, a candidate for protection under the California Endangered Species Act,” Deputy Attorney General Matthew Struhar wrote in the letter. “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.”
Mr. Strahan added that just because mountain lions “appear in Woodside from time to time” does not make the region a habitat.
Hours after officials sent the letter to Woodside officials, the Town Council announced late Sunday that it would begin accepting SB 9 applications.
In a news release, the Town Council said it had received guidance from The Department of Fish and Wildlife about “how to identify a habitat” following a meeting on Jan. 25, when the council decided to freeze SB 9 applications until they received guidance from state officials about whether mountain lions being listed as a threatened species in the region would impact the implementation of SB 9.
The Town Council said Sunday that it has “consistently exceeded its State mandated low-and-moderate-income housing commitments” and “remains focused on doing its part to alleviate the regional shortfall in affordable housing.”