The fabulously well-to-do denizens of Silicone Valley suburb Woodside are apparently testing a creative way to sidestep a new California law aimed at increasing affordable housing. They claim their bucolic enclave is exempt from the law because it is home not only to some of the richest people on earth, but also to some of the state’s endangered mountain lions.
By their reasoning, so is all of Los Angeles.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, the 5,500-person community is claiming exemption from Senate Bill 9, a zoning law that went into effect on January 1 which allows for the development of duplexes on single-family parcels. Woodside filed a petition to list the whole hood as an “Evolutionary Significant Unit” for at-risk cougars under the California Endangered Species Act.
Though the petition is currently under review by the California Department of Fish and Game Commission, Woodside’s wildlife play is going over like a bad joke with affordable housing supporters, who note that the Stanford-adjacent hideaway has a median home value of $4.5 million. That’s not counting billionaire Oracle-founder Larry Ellison’s $200 million, 23-acre shogun-style estate.
“Right now, you could have five people in a 5,000-square-foot mansion sharing one kitchen and it’s OK,” Sonja Trauss, executive director of San Francisco housing advocacy group YIMBY Law, tells the Times. “But once you have two kitchens, it’s suddenly a problem for the mountain lions?”
Should Woodside’s tactic work, it would potentially open up a lot more California real estate to wandering wild cats, while keeping out the humans. By the logic of Woodside’s petition, all of coastal California south of San Francisco would be lion mountain territory, including the entirety L.A., Orange, and San Diego Counties.
Trauss’s group has identified 40 cities that have passed rules limiting housing projects since SB 9 went into effect, some of which seem to be about as reasonable as the Woodside strategy. For instance, Los Alto Hills—another hyper-exclusive Silicone Valley neighborhood—pushed through an ordinance requiring all developments under the law to plant evergreen hedges along the property.
The forced shrubbery is known to opponents as the “Poor People Hedge.”
It’s not just outsiders who see the Woodside plan as a distasteful dodge. Technology lawyer Daniel Yost was on the Woodside Town Council for five years until 2020.
“Don’t believe for a second that this is driven by mountain lion habitat concerns,” Yost tells the paper. “It is not. It is resistance by some members of the Town Council to do our fair share in meeting housing requirements.”
Despite Woodside’s vast resources, the supposedly puma-ridden oasis is now under government scrutiny.
California Department of Housing and Community Development director Gustavo Velasquez said in a statement to the Times, “HCD has an accountability unit set up for when local governments appear to be stretching the bounds of creativity to avoid their housing responsibility. HCD will take the appropriate time to investigate and conclude whether there is a violation of state housing law under HCD’s enforcement authority in this case, as in all cases.”