CLAYTON, CA – A lawsuit by residents opposed to an 81-unit downtown apartment complex hit the rocks last week when Contra Costa Superior Court judge Edward Weil ruled the city acted properly in approving the project.
Some residents have called the three-acre project “behemoth” and “out of character” for the small town, and Clayton for Responsible Government sued the city and developer William Jordan on April 9. The group, comprised mainly of neighbors in the Stranahan development across the street, claims the city was wrong to approve the three-building, three-story complex because it’s too big and intrusive and will impact their privacy and quality of life.
The case, which has created bitter division in the community, is a vivid example of what happens when the desires of residents collide with state laws that mandate more housing and bigger projects than locals want.
To meet Contra Costa County housing requirements, the City Council rezoned the 3.3 acres at the corner of High Street and Marsh Creek Road in 2011. The moved changed it from rural/agricultural to multi-family high-density, which calls for 20 units per acre.
Density Bonus Law
But under California’s Density Bonus Law, Jordan was allowed to increase the number of units from 60 to 81 in exchange for designating seven units “affordable.” Jordan was further entitled to several concessions that opponents said would create hazardous traffic and parking issues.
The City Council was faced with approving a project that none “liked” but was in full compliance with the law – amid vehement community opposition. Mayor Julie Pierce and council members Tuija Catalano and CW Wolfe could find no legal grounds to deny the application. They followed the advice of the city attorney and voted to approve the Olivia. Council members Jeff Wan and Jim Diaz voted no.
City Council conflict
The project set off a firestorm of controversy and became the flashpoint of a bitterly fought campaign for three council seats.
Catalano, planning commissioner Peter Cloven and Holly Tillman ran their campaigns essentially as a “trio” bound to keep Clayton in compliance with state laws and protected from expensive lawsuits it was sure to lose. According to city attorney Mala Subramanian, other cities that have dug in their heels either settled or lost, costing thousands in legal fees.
“Clayton is a very small city with a small budget,” Catalano said in a statement following the ruling. “We are going to be faced with even more state mandates, especially in housing. We have to be smart. We can’t spend money we don’t have.”
Also in the race, Diaz and planning commissioner Frank Gavidia advocate taking a “just say no” position, vowing to fight state housing laws. Neither responded to emails requesting comment.
The city dodged the bullet on legal fees for this lawsuit because Jordan indemnified the city against legal costs associated with defending what he calls the “NIMBY (not in my backyard) suit.
To cover the costs, he says he will “change out materials for a cheaper buildout. The suit will be paid for with lesser finishes.” He expects to begin construction in May.