Judge rules against Los Altos in suit over Sorensen brothers’ proposal at 40 Main

The proposed development for 40 Main St. in Los Altos. Illustration by William Maston Architect & Associates.

Daily Post Staff Writer

A judge has ruled against Los Altos in a suit brought against the city by disgruntled developers and development advocates.

Developers Ted and Jerry Sorensen want to build a 66-foot building on a property they own at 40 Main St. with first-floor office space and 15 apartments on the second through fifth floors. Two of the apartments would be subsidized. The city rejected the project.

A lawsuit was filed last June by the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, a pro-housing group that often sues cities that reject housing developments.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Helen Williams ruled on Monday in favor of the Sorensens. She ordered the city to pay their legal fees and provide a permit to the Sorensens.

Judge said city acted in bad faith

Williams said Los Altos acted in bad faith by denying the permit without providing clear reasons and by making unfair demands like ordering the developers to file an administrative appeal on less than a day’s notice. She wrote that the city did not identify objective standards with which the project didn’t comply. For example, the city said the project didn’t have enough parking but wasn’t clear about what parking standards were being used.

City spokeswoman Sonia Lee said the city is disappointed with the decision but will not comment further until after the city council has discussed the decision.

The Sorensens pursued a “streamlined” permit under Senate Bill 35, a 2017 law that aims to encourage housing development by fast-tracking the permitting process for developers who meet certain requirements. The Sorensens and the California Renters Legal group said the project fits under the SB35 requirements.

The council denied the Sorensens’ request for a streamlined process and argued that the complex didn’t meet SB35’s requirements because only 54% of the space was residential instead of 67%. The Sorensens’ attorney, Daniel Golub of the law firm Holland and Knight, said that the building would meet the two-thirds requirement if the residential parking garage was included.

Williams said the city’s letter denying the streamlined process was legally deficient.

Other lawsuits facing the city

The 40 Main St. project isn’t Los Altos’ only problem. Los Altos is currently being sued by several developers who had their projects denied.

In March, the city approved a project for 36 condos at 444 and 450 First St. Council members reviewed the development in January but said they didn’t think it fit in well with their downtown character. City Attorney Jolie Houston cautioned the council members that they needed to come up with objective findings, not just say the building doesn’t fit in with downtown character, if they wanted to deny the project. She said the project appears to be compliant with city standards.


  1. The city should have approved the extremely reasonable 3-story office building that was proposed time and time again at this site. I guess the overly incompetent city council finally got the karma that was coming to them…and it came in the form of a big fat 5-story middle finger 😀

    • I agree. The original office building proposed many years ago was appropriate to the site. And the Sorensens had offered to re-do a parking plaza as a public benefit, which would have been a big win for the city.

      In the years since, new state laws have made it easier to build taller, even though there are only two affordable units in this plan. The current building design is OK, but huge for the space. But it’s the way of the future. Those who want the “village” atmosphere are out of touch with the times.

      Ultimately, the fault lies with past and current city councils. City staff didn’t get the codes nailed down and often applied codes differently to different projects. The Sorensens got rejected for minor things, while other developers got a free ride.

  2. Excellent news. This project can finally go forward and will go a long way towards revitalizing our downtown. Build, baby, build!

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