Lafayette faces two lawsuits over proposed development

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Monday, March 28, 2016
Group files lawsuit against Lafayette land development project
A Contra Costa County town that incorporated nearly 50 years ago to control growth is now center stage in the Bay Area's battle over housing.

LAFAYETTE, Calif. (KGO) -- A Contra Costa County town that incorporated almost 50 years ago to control growth is now center stage in the Bay Area's battle over housing.

Lafayette is being sued by one group that wants more housing built and another that wants to stop it.

The focus is Deer Hill, a 22-acre property at the intersection of Pleasant Hill and Deer Hill Roads. The property owner teamed with O'Brien homes to develop the land, and the Lafayette City Council thought it had reached a compromise.

City manager Steven Falk said the issues around the proposed development are a microcosm of what is happening all over the Bay Area. "We have housing affordability crisis. So, every community is trying to find its way," he said.

The Deer Hill property features a world class view of Mount Diablo and a location right along Highway 24 and a BART line.

O'Brien Homes proposed a 315 unit apartment complex. But there was major community opposition, so the city worked with O'Brien to come up with a smaller plan.

The new plan includes 44 single family homes, but no apartments. There is also a soccer field, playground, dog park and parking lot. The City Council approved it last August, but no building has begun and there are now two lawsuits.

The first suit is by the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation. It claims Lafayette broke state law when it failed to approve the apartment project, even though the property was zoned for high density housing.

The group's co-founder, Sonja Trauss says the apartments would have rented at median rates for median income people. "Lafayette hardly has any apartments. So, we sued because that is a violation of the Housing Accountability Act," she said.

The lawsuit also claims discrimination, saying apartment residents tend to be "more ethnically diverse than the existing population" of Lafayette." So the failure to put in apartments will "disproportionately affect racial minorities."

But another group, spearheaded by resident Mike Griffiths, is pushing for a smaller project or none at all. "The voters have had very little impact on the project," he said. His organization, called Save Lafayette, believes the city is already overrun by traffic and has allowed too many other developments. "The semi-rural character of the town is now being challenged by these developments and this is one of the major concerns that could fundamentally change Lafayette forever."

Griffiths says a recent city survey showed residents' top concern was preserving open space.

Save Lafayette circulated petitions demanding a vote on the project. They got enough legal signatures, but the City Council decided not to put the measure on the ballot. Falk said if the project did go to a vote, and was rejected, it would violate state law.

Members of Save Lafayette disagree. So now the group has filed legal papers asking a judge to either stop the project or let citizens vote.

City officials insist all the city's actions have followed the law. "Unless and until a judge orders us to stop, the developer is going full speed ahead."

The developer refused to talk to ABC7 News about the project because of the pending legal action. A ruling on either lawsuit could come at any time now.

Click here for the developer's website.

Click here for San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation.