YIMBYs sue city of Palo Alto for missing state housing plan deadline

Feb. 6, 2023

Daily Post Staff Writer

Pro-housing groups have filed a lawsuit against the city of Palo Alto for missing the state’s deadline to plan for over 6,000 new homes in the next eight years.

The deadline to complete the state-mandated plan, called a Housing Element, was on Jan. 31. But the city is still waiting for feedback from the state on a first draft and is months away from being done, according to Planning Director Jonathan Lait.

The Oakland-based group “Yes In My Back Yard” and the California Housing Defense Fund filed the lawsuit on Friday in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

They are suing “to enforce the city’s public duty,” lawyers Dylan Casey and Keith Diggs wrote.

“The legislature has declared that the city has a responsibility to ‘make adequate provision for the housing needs of all economic segments of the community,’” the lawsuit says, citing state law. “Legalizing the development of housing is essential to achieving this goal.”

The pro-housing groups filed a similar lawsuit against the city of Cupertino on Friday.

They are asking a judge to order the city of Palo Alto to approve a Housing Element and rezone the properties listed in the plan.

The city sent a draft of its Housing Element to the state in December, and the state is expected to respond in late March, Lait said in an email.

Most neighboring cities have been required to make changes based on the state’s feedback before sending back another draft.

Palo Alto’s next hearing on the Housing Element is planned for March before the Planning and Transportation Commission, Lait said.

“Thereafter and depending in part on the feedback we receive from the state, we’ll schedule hearings in April – June before the PTC and City Council as appropriate,” he said.

Casey and Diggs said they sent a letter to city leaders on Dec. 16 saying they wouldn’t sue if the city would acknowledge in writing that it was out of compliance with state housing law, but the city never responded.

The state requires each city and county to complete a Housing Element every eight years. The plan must describe what programs will make housing easier to build, and where a certain number of new housing units could realistically get built.

The Housing Element for 2023-2031 comes with higher quotas and harsher penalties for falling short than ever before.

Palo Alto is required to plan for 6,086 new homes over the next eight years. The draft lists all of the properties where these homes could go, and the state will decide whether development is realistic.

Cities without a Housing Element are subject to the “builder’s remedy,” a statute that allows developers to ignore local zoning restrictions to build projects that have at least 20% affordable housing.

Cities can also be sued, fined or stripped of local control by the state for failing to approve a Housing Element, but there is a 90-day grace period before enforcement begins.


  1. At any point in time every major city has 15 different lawsuits pending. Palo Alto is the most beautiful city the in Santa Clara County and it should fight to preserve its character. “Builder’s remedy” isn’t a problem because not a single developer wants to build affordable units, they all want market rate housing.

    • Palo Alto beautiful? More like a boring 1950s suburb but with Manhattan level housing prices due to decades of refusal to build housing. Developers will build affordable housing if it’s only 15% of the units, or so. Beyond that they can’t make a profit.

    • Sorry, this is just wrong. Local zoning control has kept over 85% of buildable land stuck with R1 only. Builders remedy will allow this not to be the case. Let the building begin.

  2. Of course they want market rate; got to house all the techies to make their backers happy to stick their workers in YOUR yard. Just ask Marc Andreesen and his wife from the Arrillega developer family.

    Pay attention to who’s paying them to destroy your community and everything that makes it unique,

    Pay atttention to who’s backing then and fight back.,

  3. I worked in Palo Alto and honestly that city is nothing special it looks like and operates like a bland suburb seen anywhere.

    Unfortunately for my generation it is headquarters of some Fortune 500 businesses and numerous startups.

    Palo Alto continues to approve commercial buildings while refusing housing. The city wants money from the tech industry but doesn’t want to provide any services to new housing. It should be ashamed of itself as young tech workers start their career their than when they get experience they have to root up their whole life to even have a chance to start a family. 6k homes isn’t even half of what is really needed. Currently a 3 bdrm house sells over 2 million there. Now Palo Alto won’t even do the bear minimum to be compliant with state law it is a complete shame.

  4. Striking that commenters interested in mandated dense housing don’t believe that either Palo Alto has beauty or that it should be preserved. Is there no room in the Build Baby Build plan for beauty or aesthetic? Should every town be identical blocks of soviet era apartment buildings?

  5. Follow the money. The California Housing Defense Fund’s website make it clear that they exist for one reason: To file lawsuits against entities that don’t permit unrestricted development. No discussion of sensible building policies. No discussion of transportation infrastructure improvements. No discussion of livability issues.

    Why would they do that? Because they are backed by deep-pocket developers.

  6. NH is mistaken. Palo Alto is one of the few cities that years ago adopted office caps limiting how much office/commercial development can be approved each year. This limits housing demand.
    Palo Alto also has a bunch of all below market rate and a teacher workforce housing project in the pipeline that will be built. And one just opened – Wilton Ct.
    The City addresses both supply and demand like no other. Sure you read cities have Meta or some big developer build a a bunch of housing, but are also allowed to literally build a million sq. feet of office or R&D, creating even a greater housing demand.
    We don’t do that slight of hand in Palo Alto.

  7. Many of us lived here in Palo Alto before we became inundated with nouveau Riche technology swindlers, and would like to go back to a more diverse city. There are variances galore granted to every one with money who wants to build McMansions, many of which are not occupied I am seeing a variances allowing our redwoods to be torn down crowded streets with empty houses. Someone needs to stand up to money and make a difference for our teachers and firefighters and mental health professionals who also work in the city and for the poor people down the road with horrible schools who simply want a decent education for their kids. As a Palo Alto citizens, we need to start walking the walk.

  8. Sophie, as for redwoods being removed what intersection in Palo Alto is that? Re: PA firefighters there are eleven being compensated over $400K per year. They are the one quarter of “one percenters”. Palo Alto was ninety percent white into the 1980s and has become more diverse since tech came to town, not less diverse.

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