Los Altos drops appeal of court ruling; apartment and office building will go forward

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

By the Daily Post staff

Los Altos City Council has voted 5-0 to drop its appeal of a ruling that said the city broke three state laws and acted in “bad faith” when it denied an application for a five-story apartment and office building at 40 Main St.

The city threw in the towel after the judge, Helen Williams, ordered the city to post a $7 million bond during the appeal. And if the city lost the appeal, it would be required to pay the full amount of the bond to the developers plus attorneys fees, which would likely exceed $10 million.

“The council determined that the potential cost of the litigation could severely impact the city’s ability to provide even basic municipal services,” the city said in a statement. “In light of this huge financial risk to the city and the uncertainty and risk of losing the appeal, the city council decided to withdraw the appeal.”

The council vote to drop the appeal came during an unusual Saturday meeting behind closed doors. The meeting was revealed today in the statement issued by city officials.

The city said in the statement that it will hold a public meeting to issue a permit to the developers, Ted and Jerry Sorensen, on Thursday (Sept. 10) at 7 p.m.

The meeting is a formality because the judge’s decision on behalf of the Sorensen’s in April requires the city to issue the permit, whether city officials like it or not.

Judge Williams, in her April 23 ruling, said city officials acted in “bad faith” and they violated three state laws:

• Senate Bill 35 from the 2017 state legislative session, which aims to streamline the review process for certain housing projects;

• the Housing Accountability Act;

• and the density bonus law that allows larger buildings than cities would permit if low-income housing is part of the project.

In addition to providing incentives for building housing, the laws are intended to remove the roadblocks that cities often throw in the way of new housing projects.

The SB35 streamlined process is available for housing projects in cities such as Los Altos that haven’t met their state housing quotas. It removes any requirement for a conditional use permit. It also sets a time limit to review the project of 90 or 180 days from when an application is submitted, depending on the project size.

After their application for streamlined review was denied, the developers notified the city they were going to take the matter to court.


  1. I would bet the city doesn’t have insurance to cover the bond, so that’s why they folded. The Post should ask why the city’s liability policy doesn’t cover this?

  2. The Post should ask why the Sorensen projects were denied over a period of at least 10 years while other projects — Safeway, Enchante Hotel, condos on First Street — were approved even though they didn’t adhere to all the city codes. The former planning director and one of the city planners who consistently vetoed the Sorensens ultimately were let go. But the new planners also found ways to deny the projects. As a result, instead of a pretty nice 3-story building we will now have this 5-story monolith. Good work, City Hall! You’ve really socked it to your citizens through preferential treatment and your lack of accountability.

  3. History Buff certainly knows what they are talking about.
    A little more to add….the former planning director has family ties with Hotel Enchante. The Post identified him in its reporting a few days ago re the infamous “tree house”.
    As for other ways City Hall socked residents through preferential treatment apparently there are two federal lawsuits detailing them beyond what Buff refers to.
    Lack of accountability? The Post has long bemoaned how several council members were protective of the very public servants they are to oversee and manage. Didn’t a council member reprimand another for asking tough questions of staff?

  4. Let’s review history. The Sorensons convinced some investors to overpay for 40 Main on the belief it would be rezoned to 3 stories. It wasn’t. They then proceeded to try and convince people to grant them a development exception for an office building that exceeded the zoning that existed at the time of purchase. They failed. Along comes SB35 and suddenly they want to build housing. This is about money. Nothing more and nothing less. It is the kind of behavior that gives developers a bad name. They got lucky the state handed them a gun and some judge believed them. We need housing. Los Altos doesn’t need this mixed use 5 story building. It is an embarrassment all around.

    • “This is about money,” MAS screams. “Nothing more and nothing less.”

      In the real world, MAS, it’s always about money. And yes, greed!

      Has MAS ever sold a home? I’m sure MAS took the LOWEST bidder because he or she isn’t about money.

      MAS has never asked his or her boss for a raise.

      MAS doesn’t own any stocks or mutual funds because the whole idea of Wall Street is making money. MAS doesn’t approve.

      When MAS goes to Safeway, he or she overpays the clerk because it’s not about money.

      Indeed, why can the Sorensens’ live within MAS’s rules?

      Let’s eliminate money and switch to full-blown communism. Nobody will try to make a profit. Everyone is equal (though some are more equal than others).

      MAS, thank you for your clear perspective on life.

  5. When you read the judge’s very strong decision, you’ve got to wonder why the council’s attorney didn’t advise her clients to settle instead of going through this spectacle. This September 2 ruling is another opportunity for the judge to point out how the city operated outside the law. It’s sad to see a city behave so brazenly, with no one on council objecting or at least asking for a second legal opinion.

  6. There’s more to the vein Vic tapped.
    Apparently the city’s employees had a culture of operating outside the law. And this was endorsed, supported by the majority on Council and given legal cover by the (now former) attorneys, all now in the legal hot seat.

    All this independent of the Sorensen debacle. How many are aware Los Altos exempted non minority homeowners from the law while requiring minority homeowners comply strictly with the same laws and even what’s not in the laws?

    All this has been going on for a decade+. The Sorensen project was prohibited by the local code; time will tell if SB35 can override local zoning.

    There’s one person on Council–Lynette Eng Lee–who is effecting positive change and accountability which is why we are now hearing about the “tree house” and other things. She is standing for reelection and needs our respect, support and votes.

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