CEQA Litigation Win


RJR Attorneys Successfully Defend 180-Unit Housing Development

Earlier this month, the First District Court of Appeals handed down a win for our client in a CEQA lawsuit challenging the approval of a 180-unit residential project in Petaluma (Project). (Save North Petaluma River and Wetlands v. City of Petaluma (Nov. 14, 2022, A163192) [nonpub. opn.].) Matthew Visick and Sabrina Eshaghi of our office represented the developer during entitlements and litigation.

The Court confirmed:

  • The “baseline” conditions against which biological impacts are measured can be drawn from site visits, studies, and habitat evaluations that were undertaken both before and after the Notice of Preparation (NOP) for the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is issued; and
  • The EIR need not contain a standalone analysis of evacuation impacts, despite expert testimony to the contrary, where substantial evidence indicates large-scale evacuations would not be necessary.

The Project went through an extensive environmental review process that resulted in the release of a Draft EIR in 2018. The City allowed for an extended public comment period on the Draft EIR and held two hearings to solicit additional comments before preparing the Final EIR. As intended under CEQA, the developer adjusted the project multiple times to respond to comments received during the hearings on the Draft and Final EIR. Despite the developer’s efforts to respond to community input, opponents of the Project submitted a letter from an attorney to the City on the day the City Council approved the Project asserting a broad range of alleged errors in the Project’s CEQA review. Soon after the City Council approved the Project, the opponents filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the approval.

At the Trial Court, in addition to challenging the adequacy of the EIR’s biological resources and emergency evacuation analysis, the opponents claimed the developer had deprived the public of its right to meaningfully participate in the CEQA process by making changes to the Project in response to public and City input after publication of the Final EIR, failed to analyze the impact of formaldehyde off gassing from composite building products, and failed to adequately analyze potential impacts related to flooding from the adjacent Petaluma River. The Trial Court rejected the opponents’ wide-ranging claims and upheld the EIR’s certification. The opponents promptly appealed.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the Trial Court’s decision as to the two issues raised on appeal: the “baseline” for measuring biological resources impacts and the adequacy of the Project’s emergency evacuation analysis.

First, the Court agreed that information and analysis conducted both before and after the NOP is issued can be the basis for establishing the “baseline” against which Project impacts are measured. The state CEQA Guidelines generally require existing baseline conditions to be based on the environmental conditions at the time the NOP issues. Here, the NOP was published in 2007, but a special status species report for the EIR’s biological resources analysis was drafted in 2004. The EIR indicated its analysis included updated database reviews and information gathered from site visits in the years following the NOP. The Court confirmed that the use of materials from before and after the NOP issued did not require additional justification because there was no indication that the conditions had changed. Instead, the Court determined that the “inclusion of the post-2007 information indicates that the EIR was prepared with an eye toward ‘completeness’ and ‘a good faith effort at full disclosure.’” The Court also rejected the opponents’ argument that the EIR must provide additional documentation from the biologist’s studies and site visits to allow the opponents to evaluate whether they support the analysis in the EIR, confirming that factual information in the EIR itself may constitute substantial evidence. The Court also noted that the opponents could have obtained this information if they had raised their comments during the public comment period rather than on the day the Project was approved.

Second, the Court agreed that where the City has substantial evidence that large scale evaluations will not be necessary, the EIR need not include a stand alone analysis of evacuation impacts. While the EIR did include an analysis of the Project’s impact on adopted emergency response and evacuation plans, the opponents argued that the EIR also needed to evaluate egress and evacuation safety due to neighborhood concerns regarding flooding and grass fires as well as a letter from a “national evacuation expert” opining on allegedly dangerous public safety impacts in the event of an evacuation. The Court reaffirmed that CEQA does not allow courts to reweigh conflicting evidence when reviewing an EIR and that case law allowed the City to rely on the expertise of its staff to determine that the Project will not have a significant impact. Here, City staff prepared a memo reiterating that the Project is outside the 100-year floodplain and is not within the high fire severity zone, and the Assistant Fire Chief confirmed the Fire Department did not have significant flood or fire access/egress concerns. Given the analysis in the EIR and the corroborating statements from City staff, the Court concluded that the opponents failed to prove any inadequacy of the public safety analysis in the EIR.

This opinion affirms the deferential review that the Courts will give to an EIR. So long as the EIR reasonably sets forth enough information to allow informed public participation and allows the City to make a reasoned decision whether to approve a project, the Courts will not second guess the City’s decision to approve a project.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Sabrina Eshaghi.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

2022 Housing Legislation Round-Up


This year was a blockbuster year for housing legislation coming from Sacramento. Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law more than three dozen bills related to housing and housing production. Below please find a brief overview of twelve housing bills signed by the Governor that become effective next year.

AB 682. Density Bonus for “Shared Housing” Buildings

AB 682 amends the State Density Bonus Law to create a density bonus for “Shared Housing” developments. Shared housing, or group housing as it is commonly known, is characterized by single-room units with shared access to common kitchen and dining facilities. Each unit is typically intended for one or two occupants and features a small kitchenette. This new density bonus will allow shared housing developments to build at greater densities in exchange for dedicating a percentage of units to affordable housing, with the same affordability requirements and bonus amounts as is currently available to standard-unit developments. Notably, shared housing developments can provide up to 25% of their floor area as standard-unit housing and still qualify for a density bonus.

AB 916. No Public Hearing to Increase Bedroom Count

AB 916 prohibits cities from requiring a public hearing for a permit to add up to two bedrooms by reconfiguring existing space within an existing dwelling unit.

AB 1551. Commercial Development Bonuses for Providing Affordable Housing

AB 1551 creates a density bonus for commercial developers who partner with housing developers and support the provision of affordable housing through land donation, cash payment, or by directly building units. A commercial developer is eligible for up to a 20% density bonus. To qualify, the housing development supported by the commercial developer must provide either 30% of units as affordable for low income (<80% AMI) or 15% of units as affordable for very-low income (<50% AMI).

AB 2011. Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act

AB 2011 provides streamlined, ministerial approval of multifamily housing developments that contain affordable housing units located in commercial zones. Two tiers of development are available, depending on the amount of affordable housing provided. A project dedicating 100% of units as affordable for lower income households can be developed by right on most parcels zoned for retail, office, or parking uses. A project with market-rate units that provides a specific percentage of rental or ownership units as affordable for either lower income or very-low income households can be developed by right on parcels zoned for retail, office, or parking if the site has at least 50 feet of frontage on a commercial corridor (a street between 70 and 150 feet wide). AB 2011 projects are also subject to certain prevailing wage and skilled workforce requirements. We have discussed AB 2011 in greater detail in previous updates on August 24, 2022, and September 1, 2022.

SB 6. Middle Class Housing Act

SB 6 is intended to increase the development potential for middle-income housing by principally permitting housing developments that meet specific criteria in areas zoned for office, retail, or parking uses. Eligible developments are required to meet or exceed certain density thresholds established in the state’s Housing Element law, such as 30 units per acre in metropolitan settings or 20 units per acre in suburban settings. SB 6 projects must also meet certain prevailing wage and skilled and trained workforce requirements, although a development can be exempted from these in certain circumstances.

AB 2334. Density Bonus in Very Low Vehicle Travel Area

AB 2334 expands the available density bonus for 100% affordable housing developments in very low vehicle travel areas. A “very low vehicle travel area” is a transit analysis zone where existing residential development generates 85% or fewer vehicle miles traveled per capita than the regional area in which it is located. Qualifying density bonus projects are not subject to maximum density controls, are entitled to up to 4 development incentives, and may receive an additional three-stories of height. This additional density bonus is only available in the counties of the Bay Area, Sacramento, the Southern Coast, and Inland Empire. AB 2334 also clears up the grey area for application of the state density bonus in a form-based zoning district, requiring calculation of an “average unit size” multiplied by the density bonus amount to determine increase in floor area allowed.

AB 2653. Housing Element Reporting

AB 2653 alters some of the requirements for annual housing element reports cities must submit to the state. Cities must include greater detail, including the numbers of all new and demolished housing units in the jurisdiction, as well as data on all approved density bonus projects. AB 2653 also provides a mechanism for the state to request corrections and make referrals for enforcement.

AB 2668. SB 35 Streamlining Updates

AB 2668 amends SB 35 clarifying streamlined SB 35 projects are not subject to any non-legislative discretionary approval and that density bonus units are not considered when calculating whether a project satisfies SB 35’s affordability requirements. Further, the bill prohibits cities from denying an application for missing materials if there is enough information to allow a reasonable person to conclude the development is consistent with the applicable objective standards. AB 2668 also brings important change to how the Cortese List affects SB 35 eligibility. Placement on the Cortese List, which is the aggregate of the state’s decentralized hazardous waste sites databases, disqualifies a site from SB 35, until it is cleared for residential use by the authority having jurisdiction. However, longstanding confusion over the mechanism of clearing a site meant that once a site was listed, it was effectively barred from SB 35 permanently, even if it had undergone extensive remediation. AB 2668 establishes specific criteria, documentation, and agency determinations that allow a “listed” site to qualify for SB 35.

AB 2221 & SB 897. ADU Law Updates

AB 2221 and SB 897 make a number of changes to existing ADU law to provide for greater development flexibility and ensure consistent and efficient project review. Under these bills, a city that denies an ADU application will be required to provide a full set of written comments that includes a list of all deficient items and details how the application can be remedied. These comments must be provided within the existing 60-day review period. Additionally, a city will be prohibited from denying an ADU application based on nonconforming zoning conditions, building code violations, or unpermitted structures that are not affected by the ADU construction and do not pose a threat to safety.

The bills also increase ADU development potential by restricting setbacks that prevent ADUs below a minimum floor area, increasing the minimum height limit for ADUs located near transit stops or attached to primary dwellings, and prohibiting owner-occupancy requirements until January 1, 2025.  Importantly, the addition of an ADU will no longer constitute a change of R occupancy under the building code such as from an R3 (single-family or duplex) to an R2 (multi-family), and will not trigger a requirement for fire sprinklers if not previously required.

AB 2234. Post-Entitlement Permit Processing

AB 2234 focuses on post-entitlement non-discretionary building permit processes after the planning process has concluded and environmental review is complete. AB 2234 requires local agencies to compile a list of information need to approve or deny a post-entitlement permit, a checklist and post an example of a completed, approved application. AB 2234 also sets timelines for review of post-entitlement applications for housing projects: (a) for projects with 25 units or fewer, a local agency shall complete first review and comment within 30 days of an application completion; and (b) for projects with 26 or more units, a local agency shall complete first review and comment within 60 days of an application completion. These time limits are tolled if a local agency requires review of an application by an outside third-party reviewer. Failure to meet these timelines is a violation of the Housing Accountability Act.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorneys Justin A. Zucker and Daniel J. Turner.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

Downtown Oakland Specific Plan: ZIP Update


As previously reported, the Downtown Oakland Specific Plan (“DOSP”) is working its way to the City Council for adoption, currently anticipated in late 2022. The DOSP includes Zoning Amendments (which we’ve previously reported on) and a Zoning Incentive Program (“ZIP”). Initial details for the ZIP were released earlier this summer (which we’ve previously reported on). Below are additional details regarding the ZIP based on the economic analysis reports prepared by Hausrath Economics Group, dated August 2022 and September 16, 2022, in addition to recent community meetings on September 13 (presentation slides) and on September 19 (presentation slides).

The ZIP was developed in response to community concerns to allowing development downtown without obtaining community benefits. The ZIP allows developers to voluntarily elect to provide community benefits, in one of four forms, to increase allowed development capacity, either additional market-rate dwelling units or commercial space. The four on-site community benefits options include providing (1) affordable housing, (2) below market-rate ground floor commercial space, (3) public restrooms, or (4) streetscape, open space and flood control improvements exceeding basic city requirements. Alternatively, the ZIP includes the option to provide community benefits through payment of an in-lieu fee instead of providing on-site benefits, or some combination of on-site benefits and an in-lieu fee.

The ZIP is a voluntary program that creates additional value for a development project with the City capturing a portion of the value increase. The increase in value from the additional, higher-intensity development is calculated as the difference in value of development under the maximum intensity zoning compared to the base zoning. The value is expressed in dollars per building square foot of added development for commercial and dollars per dwelling unit added for residential.

As currently analyzed, the ZIP is structured so that a third of the additional value from the more intense development is captured in the form of a community benefit. The remaining two-thirds is split with one-third to the developer to incentivize development at increased intensity and a third to the owner to account for increased resulting land value, which in turn results in increased property taxes. During recent community meetings, there has been discussion of adjusting this formula to increase the City’s value capture share.

In creating the incentive, the ZIP considers the costs and economic variables specific to development types, i.e., change from Type III or V (mid-rise/low-rise) to the more costly Type I (high-rise) construction. Properties with large increases in density supporting high-rise development over mid-rise/low-rise projects can have lower value capture per additional dwelling unit or per additional building square foot due to higher costs involved. To account for this, the ZIP establishes three Zoning Incentive Areas that reflect similar market contexts, development patterns and potentials, parcel sizes, and existing land uses. There are three areas each for residential development (map) and commercial development (map), with R-A, R-B, and R-C zones for residential and C-A, C-B, and C-C for commercial development.

The ZIP incentive areas allow additional density ranging from 11% to 800% more density with 65% of cases more than doubling density. The large density bonus accounts for increased costs associated with change in construction typology to Type I for high-rise development.

Based on location, a commercial development could obtain an additional 100,000 sf of office space with the provision of below market ground floor commercial space totaling 6,828 sf (Zone C-A), 4,655 sf (Zone C-B), or 3,724 sf (Zone C-C).

The ZIP is available to a developer in lieu of or in addition to the State Density Bonus set forth in Government Code Section 65915, et. seq. Meaning, a project could layer the State Density Bonus on top of the ZIP to increase development intensity. In instances when the ZIP and State Density Bonus are used in tandem, the project’s ZIP development intensity is the base density not the underlying base zoning density.

The DOSP and ZIP are slated to return to the Zoning Update Committee (“ZUC”) before advancing to the Planning Commission and City Council. While previously schedule to return to the ZUC on September 29, that hearing has been cancelled to allow additional public meetings. The ZUC hearing has not yet been rescheduled. We will continue to track this significant rezoning and community planning effort as it moves forward.

Reuben, Junius, & Rose LLP has experience with entitlement projects and land use diligence throughout Oakland, and we are pleased to have worked on some of the largest housing projects approved in the city over the last several years.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Justin A. Zucker.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

HCD Cracks Down on S.F. Housing Practices; S.F. Real Estate Tax Appeal Deadline


Last month, the State Department of Housing and Community Development (“HCD”) announced that its Housing Accountability Unit (“HAU”) will conduct a first-ever Housing Policy and Practice Review of San Francisco, aimed at identifying and removing barriers to approval and construction of new housing in the City. According to the City’s self-reported data, it has the longest timelines in the state for advancing housing projects to construction, among the highest housing and construction costs, and the HAU has received more complaints about San Francisco than any other local jurisdiction in the state. U.S. Census data shows that Seattle – a city of comparable size – approves housing construction at more than three times the rate of San Francisco.

Over the next nine months and beyond, the HAU, in partnership with the U.C. Berkeley Institute of Urban and Regional Development and others, will conduct a comprehensive analysis of San Francisco’s housing approval policies and practices. The review will examine discretionary decision-making patterns that lead to abnormally long housing delays. The review also intends to identify barriers to the approval and development of housing at all income levels, including housing that is affordable to lower- and moderate-income households.

Separately, in an August 8 letter to Planning Director Rich Hillis, HCD was both critical and encouraging of the City’s Draft Housing Element. California cities are required to update their General Plan Housing Elements by January 2023. HCD praised the City’s “bold and meaningful actions to both reduce barriers to higher-opportunity neighborhoods while simultaneously reinvesting in historically underserved neighborhoods.” Yet HCD also identified a number of revisions that would be necessary for the Housing Element to comply with state law.

In yet another letter on August 11, HCD asked the City to explain itself concerning a specific project approval, expressing concern that the City violated housing law. HCD was concerned with the City’s decision, in granting conditional approval, to downsize a 19-unit group housing project at 3832 18th Street in the Mission District. HCD expressed concern that the downsizing violated the State Density Bonus Law.

This project-specific letter follows HCD’s letter to the City last November expressing concern that the City’s denial of two large housing projects, at 450 O’Farrell Street and 469 Stevenson Street, may have violated state law. In those cases, the Planning Commission had approved the projects, but the Board of Supervisors denied them.

The aforementioned Housing Accountability Unit at HCD is part of an unprecedented new initiative to support the production of housing statewide. According to its website, “California’s housing crisis has reached historic proportions despite the passage of numerous laws intended to increase the supply of housing affordable to Californians at all income levels.” As part of the 2021-2022 state budget, HCD received additional staff to grow its accountability efforts and formed the HAU. The HAU holds jurisdictions accountable for meeting their housing element commitments and complying with state housing laws. One of its primary tools is technical assistance to the public and enforcement letters. More information on these powers is available at the HCD website.

San Francisco Real Estate Tax Appeal Deadline

The deadline for San Francisco property owners to appeal their property’s value for the 2022/2023 tax year is September 15, 2022.  Deadlines for other California counties vary.  Please contact Kevin Rose (krose@reubenlaw.com) if you have questions about the tax appeal process.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Thomas P. Tunny.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

AB 2011 Could Unlock Mixed-Income Housing

AB 2011

East Bay state representative Buffy Wicks, along with other co-sponsors including Senator Scott Wiener, proposed a compelling bill that aims to bridge a long-sought gap between pro-housing advocates’ desire for streamlining code-compliant multi-family residential projects with on-site affordability (both mixed-income and 100% affordable), and construction labor unions’ desire to ensure fair wages and future training for its members.

Known as the High Road Jobs Act of 2022, AB 2011 would allow ministerial, by-right approval for certain multi-family affordable housing. A development project in a zoning district where office, retail, and parking are principally permitted would be subject to streamlined, ministerial review if it meets many of the requirements for SB 35 eligibility, as well as additional locational and affordability requirements. AB 2011 projects would not need to obtain discretionary entitlements and would not be subject to CEQA.

To qualify for AB 2011 streamlining, housing development projects must either provide 100% affordability, or provide on-site affordable units, aka BMRs, in a primarily market rate project. As amended in the Senate on August 11, the on-site BMR requirement is somewhat complicated for rental units, but essentially requires between 12-15% BMRs unless a local requirement is higher, in which case the local program applies and additional AMI restrictions could be required. For condos, 30% could be offered at moderate income or 15% at lower income, and the same caveat about higher local requirements applies.

These projects would be subject to objective development standards, and additional qualifying criteria. As of August 11, the criteria for mixed-income projects include, but are not limited to:

  • proposing a multi-family housing development project;
  • abutting a commercial corridor and having a frontage at least 50 feet in width, on a site 20 acres or less in size;
  • not demolishing rent controlled or deed-restricted affordable units, or listed historic resources;
  • replacing no more than four existing units;
  • located no closer than 500 feet from a freeway;
  • providing relocation assistance to certain commercial tenants; and
  • vacant properties that are not zoned for multifamily residential use cannot qualify for streamlined ministerial processing.

Once an AB 2011 development application is submitted, several streamlining provisions apply. The local government must determine whether the project complies with objective planning standards within 60-90 days depending on unit count. If a local government determines that a project does not comply with objective planning standards, it must provide a written explanation to the proponent within this timeframe. Further, any design review must be completed within 90-180 days. Projects using the streamlined approval process would also be eligible for density bonuses, incentives, concessions, waivers, reductions in development standards, and potentially reduced parking ratios, under California’s density bonus law.

AB 2011 projects would also be required to pay construction workers at least the prevailing rate of wages and certify their compliance with this provision with the local government. As part of the developer’s obligation to pay prevailing wages, developers building 50 or more units of housing must submit monthly compliance reports to the local government.

Importantly, projects utilizing AB 2011 would not be a project for the purposes of CEQA (i.e. no environmental review) and the approval procedures the municipality would be permitted to use would solely be ministerial in nature.

In May of 2022, AB 2011 passed out of the California State Assembly, and is currently with the Senate, where it was voted out of committee on August 11. The bill has received several key union endorsements, including from the California Conference of Carpenters and SEIU. However, other unions, such as the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, and the California Labor Federation have opposed the bill claiming it would “eliminate[] the mandate that a skilled-and-trained workforce be a part of… [project] construction crews.” Unions such as the Building Trades Council oppose the bill because the bill would not require developers to use a “skilled and trained workforce,” which has the effect of eliminating the requirement that a certain percentage of workers on a project are unionized. The bill provides instead that for developments streamlined under AB 2011 that workers be paid a “prevailing wage” with some additional benefits such as healthcare coverage.

We will continue to track this potential game-changer of a bill as it makes its way through Sacramento.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorneys Mark Loper and Daniel J. Turner, and Law Clerk Alex Klein.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

San Carlos Enacts Northeast Area Development Moratorium


Pending Specific Plan Will Streamline CEQA Review of Future Life Science Projects

On April 25th, the City of San Carlos enacted a development moratorium covering approximately 120 acres of land in the north side of the City, and east of Old County Road (see map below).  San Carlos has seen significant life science and R&D development in recent years, and the northeast area is anticipated to see an expansion of those uses.  The moratorium is broad, applying to virtually all development applications other than tenant improvements and projects with complete, filed applications.  It is expected to be in effect for two years while the City prepares a Specific Plan that will guide future development, articulate the public benefits future projects will provide, and streamline CEQA review of projects consistent with the Specific Plan.

State law allows a City Council or County Board of Supervisors to enact a development moratorium of up to two years after it makes findings that approving projects would create an immediate threat to the public health, safety, or welfare.  The moratorium is initially limited to 45 days but can be extended with another vote of the City Council or Board of Supervisors to a maximum of up to two years.  Both the vote to enact the moratorium and the vote to extend must be approved by a supermajority (i.e., 4/5ths) vote.

The San Carlos City Council found development in the northeast area would have health, safety, and welfare impacts unless the Specific Plan considered how it would affect the “supply of land and adequate sites suitable, feasible, and available for the development of housing.”  The findings anticipate that the Specific Plan will “develop policies and strategies to incorporate housing as a part of this new development.”

While not expected, it is possible the City Council will carve out additional projects when it considers whether to extend the moratorium.  Several project sponsors opposed the enactment of the moratorium at the meeting on April 25, urging the Council to exempt projects with applications pending even if those applications were not yet complete.  At least one Council member appeared sympathetic to those arguments during the May 25th meeting (as noted above, at least four of the five Council members would need to vote to extend the moratorium). Planning Department staff will hold a public meeting with stakeholders on May 11th to gather stakeholder input and that input will be shared with the Council.

Planning Department staff emphasized at the April 25th hearing that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) the City is preparing for the Specific Plan will help streamline the approval of future projects that are consistent with the Plan.  State law provides several CEQA streamlining tools for projects consistent with a specific plan analyzed with an EIR.  Development under Redwood City’s Downtown Precise Plan (DTPP) provides a good example of the advantages of this approach for both the City and the applicable project sponsors.  Projects consistent with the DTPP required little to no additional project-specific CEQA review, allowing them to move through the approval process in a fraction of the time normally required.  In an ideal world, this strategy allows over-stretched Planning Department staff to redirect their time from project-level CEQA review to other priorities, and project sponsors to significantly reduce the often inordinate time and cost associated with CEQA review of individual projects.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Matthew Visick.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

Density Bonus Law & CEQA Tiering Upheld


This winter, two California Courts of Appeal issued decisions that reaffirm some of the positive aspects of state laws related to housing production, from both a CEQA perspective and via the State Density Bonus Law (“DBL”). In the first case, out of East Bay city Newark, the First District Court of Appeal upheld a tiered CEQA review for a 469-lot subdivision based on a program-level EIR prepared for a Specific Plan. About a week later, the Fourth Appellate District upheld San Diego’s approval of a 20-story residential tower, relying heavily on the protections afforded to mixed-income residential projects under the DBL. We discuss each below.

In Newark, the City approved a specific plan in 2010 for up to 1,260 units, as well as a golf course and related facilities, relying on an EIR. The EIR specifically noted that Newark would proceed under CEQA Guidelines Section 15168 for specific development proposals and “tier” off of the EIR to the extent applicable. In 2019, the applicants submitted a subdivision map proposing 469 residential lots, but no golf course. Other changes from the development analyzed in the EIR included filling and elevating only certain areas on the site (the project site is located next to the San Francisco Bay) and locating the filled and elevated areas directly next to wetlands, with riprap along the western banks. The City prepared an exemption checklist comparing the EIR to the subdivision’s impacts and conducted background technical studies, including an updated sea level rise analysis. The checklist found that the subdivision would be consistent with the specific plan, and that there were no changed circumstances or new information that might trigger the need for more CEQA review than what was done for the EIR. It was a classic example of CEQA “tiering.”

The Court of Appeal upheld the City’s use of the checklist. First, it rejected an argument that the project changes made tiering inappropriate. The Court helpfully pointed out that changes in and of themselves do not eliminate the ability to tier off an EIR; instead, the environmental consequences resulting from those changes must be new, greater, or substantially different than what was analyzed in the EIR. Here, they were not. The Court also rejected the appellant’s claim that the amount and rate of sea level rise was different enough to require a new EIR, finding that the EIR’s unambiguous finding of a significant impact due to sea level rise was adequate, as was some language in the EIR noting that the rate of sea level rise was uncertain and might be accelerating.

Finally, the Court determined that adaptive management plans for sea level rise do not improperly defer consideration of mitigation measures. Taking a refreshingly common-sense approach to climate change and CEQA, the Court would not fault Newark for acknowledging in the EIR that adaptive management would be required. “The City’s potential responses to environmental conditions between 50 and 80 years from now cannot be considered part of the project,” it concluded. “Because the City currently can only dimly guess what measures will be needed to respond to conditions several generations from now, the City was not required to analyze the impacts of the adaptive pathways” as part of the project.

The Court of Appeal’s opinion in San Diego generated more buzz, particularly among the pro-housing groups that have done yeoman’s work in recent years to strengthen California’s housing protections. The case was originally not certified for publication, in part because San Diego’s City Attorney was reluctant to have a published case that so clearly spelled out the limits of the City’s discretion to deny or downsize density bonus projects. Nevertheless, after receiving petitions to publish it, the Court did. It is helpful in several ways, reaffirming the City’s evidentiary burden to deny waivers or concessions; harmonizing General Plan consistency findings with the DBL; and applying the conclusion the First District Court of Appeal reached in Wollmer v. City of Berkeley that a density bonus project can be approved with residential amenities such as a courtyard.

The Project—a 20-story, 204-unit mixed use tower at 6th Avenue and Olive Street across from Balboa Park—faced pushback from neighbors, at least some of whom the Court implied would lose their view of the park. Somewhat surprisingly, instead of arguing that the project would have an unmitigable health and safety impact on the adjacent park, the neighbors argued administratively, at the trial court, and at the Court of Appeal that the project should be denied because it did not comply with several General Plan and Community Plan guidelines that call for contextual development and massing moderation of tall towers. They also argued that the City should not approve waivers that contradicted the guidelines, and that the City should have approved a shorter and squatter development that had the same number of units but a smaller courtyard.

The Court began its analysis by noting that the neighbors had “sidestepped” the implications of the DBL, not discussing it at all in its opening brief and then dismissively claiming the DBL is not a “free pass.” The Court identified the narrow grounds by which a City can shrink or deny a DBL project and pointed out that the neighbors simply failed to make any arguments about that point.

It then went on to explain that the developer specifically requested concessions under the DBL that were germane to each of the General Plan and Community Plan guidelines the neighbors claimed the project did not comply with. The City Council expressly made a finding that there was no evidence to support the denial of the requested incentive, which the Court found to be determinative—acknowledging that the burden on this issue has now shifted to cities if they attempt to deny a project, not the developer proposing an incentive. It also concluded that the project’s waivers were correctly layered on top of the project with requested concessions, meaning a project qualifies for waivers based on its form with both the density bonus and the concessions.

The Court finally rejected the neighbors’ claim that the project’s design was not dictated by the density bonus and concessions, but by a large courtyard. It pointed out that this precise argument was raised and rejected in the Wollmer v. City of Berkeley case from 2011, one of the first cases analyzing the modern DBL. The San Diego City Council could not demand the developer remove the courtyard or redesign its building to satisfy the neighbors’ subjective concerns. The Court stated: “a city cannot apply a development standard that would physically preclude construction of the project as designed, even if the building includes ‘amenities’ beyond the bare minimum of building components.” It remains to be seen what qualifies as an “amenity” that can be baked into a project other than a courtyard, as both Wollmer and the San Diego case related to open space and courtyard amenities. And the evidentiary burden and procedural posture here were also the same as Wollmer: a city defending a project approval with amenities instead of making a project shorter or smaller by eliminating them. This issue may be ripe for further litigation.

The Newark case—Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge v. City of Newark et al. (2022) ___ Cal.App. ___ (A162045, Alameda County Superior Court No. RG19046938)—and the San Diego case—Bankers Hill 150 et al v. City of San Diego et al (2022) ___ Cal.App. ___ (D077963, Super. Ct. No. 37-2019- 00020725-CU-WM-CTL)—are reminders that well-crafted CEQA documents, entitlement applications, and approval motions can help ensure new state laws meant to protect and streamline housing projects are accurately applied to a project.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Mark Loper.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

Planning Commission Considers Changes to Group Housing

Group Housing

On February 10th, the San Francisco Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend its approval (with modifications) of two proposed ordinances that could bring big changes for Group Housing citywide.

In mid-December 2021, Supervisor Peskin introduced two ordinances at the Board of Supervisors.  The first (Board File No. 211299, “Planning Code – Group Housing Definition”), which is co-sponsored by Supervisors Walton and Mandelman, proposes to amend the definition of Group Housing under the San Francisco Planning Code (the “Planning Code”).

Under the current Zoning provision of the Planning Code (and pursuant to a previous Zoning Administrator interpretation), Group Housing rooms can include a limited cooking facility, which is defined as having a small counter space, a small under-counter refrigerator, a small sink, a microwave, and a two-ring burner.  Further, Group Housing rooms must be rented out for a minimum of seven days, and Group Housing developments do not have minimum square footage requirements for building common spaces and amenities.  On-site below-market-rate/inclusionary Group Housing rooms can be offered as either rental or ownership tenure.

However, Supervisor Peskin’s legislation proposes the following changes to the Group Housing definition:

  • Individual and limited cooking facilities would no longer be allowed in Group Housing rooms.
  • Group Housing rooms would need to be rented out for at least 30 days, rather than 7.
  • Group Housing would require at least 0.25 square feet of common space for every square foot of private space (including bedrooms and individual bathrooms). At least half of the required common space would need to be devoted to a communal kitchen, with one kitchen for every 20 Group Housing rooms. Student housing and 100% affordable housing would have an exception to this requirement.
  • On-site inclusionary Group Housing rooms would no longer be permitted as ownership units.

The second ordinance (Board File No. 211300, “Planning Code, Zoning Map – Group Housing Special Use District”), proposes to create a new Group Housing Special Use District, generally covering the Chinatown and Tenderloin neighborhoods, within which new Group Housing rooms would be prohibited.

After three hours of hearing and deliberations, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of both ordinances to the Board of Supervisors, with the following proposed modifications:

To the Group Housing Definition Legislation:

  • Increase the common space requirement for Group Housing to 0.5 square feet of common space for every square foot of private space (instead of the proposed 0.25 sf);
  • Require at least 1 kitchen within 15% of the common space (instead of the proposed 50%);
  • Revise the minimum number of kitchens to be at least 1 communal kitchen for every 15 Group Housing rooms (instead of the proposed 20);
  • In addition to Student Housing and 100% Affordable Housing, also exempt units protected under Section 41.3 of the Hotel Conversion Ordinance from common space requirements;
  • Exempt organizations such as Family House from the common space requirements;
  • Allow academic institutions to provide limited cooking facilities in Group Housing rooms;
  • Define the metrics for communal kitchen requirements;
  • Exclude the single-room occupancy (“SRO”) aspect from this specific legislation with the intent to continue discussions on SRO controls in the future; and
  • For the Planning Department to consider establishing a Working Group to further discuss Group Housing intent, best practices, and future legislation.

To the Group Housing SUD Legislation:

  • Revise the proposed SUD to exempt Student Housing and 100% Affordable Housing projects; and
  • Exclude the SRO aspect from this specific legislation with the intent to continue discussions in the future.

It remains to be seen which, if any, of the Commission’s proposed modifications will be incorporated into these ordinances, which will come before the Board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee at an unknown future date.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Melinda Sarjapur.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

The Basics: Construction Logistics Agreements


Real estate developers often require agreements from neighboring property owners to coordinate logistical issues during construction. This is particularly true for infill projects in dense urban neighborhoods, where structures are frequently built to the property line and adjacent to existing buildings.  Developers are well-served by considering the logistical needs of their projects during the entitlement period, so that they may begin negotiations with adjacent property owners.  Doing so provides the opportunity to adjust their projects and/or budgets if it appears that obtaining necessary agreements may prove difficult or financially burdensome.

Several topics immediately come to mind when considering what kinds of agreements may be required from neighboring property owners:


Whenever a property owner intends to undertake excavation on its property, it is required to provide notice to neighboring property owners that states (a) the depth of the planned excavation, and (b) the date when excavation will begin.  When “excavation is to be of a greater depth than are the walls or foundations of any adjoining building or other structure, and is to be so close as to endanger the building or other structure in any way,” the adjacent property owner must be provided at least 30 days’ notice to protect its property from damage, and it must be given a reasonable license to enter onto the property where excavation will occur in order to do so.  Cal. Civ. Code § 832(3).

The tables turn, however, when the “excavation is intended to be or is deeper than the standard depth of foundations, which depth is defined to be a depth of nine feet below the adjacent curb level. . . .”  Cal. Civ. Code § 832(3).  In that case, the excavating owner has the burden to protect the adjacent structure(s) without cost to the adjacent property owner, provided that the adjacent owner provides a license for the excavating owner to do so.  If damage occurs to the adjacent building during the excavation, the excavating owner may be liable for such damage, except for minor settlement cracks.

When a project requires a deep excavation, the developer’s engineering team typically prepares a shoring plan.  Tiebacks are often used to support the shoring system, as an alternative to internal bracing.  When tiebacks will be placed under the land of an adjacent property owner, the developer must obtain the adjacent property owner’s agreement to the installation.  An agreement is also required if the tiebacks will remain in place after construction.

The form of the negotiated agreement – license or recorded easement – is largely determined by what will happen to the tiebacks after the completion of construction.  If title to the tiebacks will remain with the developer, a recorded easement will be required.  If such title will pass to the adjacent owner, a license agreement may be sufficient.  In either event, the developer should consider how removal of the tiebacks will be handled in the event that below-grade construction on the adjacent property later occurs.  If the tiebacks will be removed, the developer may want to retain control over the removal process, and have an opportunity to repair any damage to waterproofing or other building systems when removal occurs.  It is advisable to consider such issues when the tieback agreement is negotiated.

Pre-Construction Inspection

Given that a developer may be liable for damage caused to an adjacent structure during excavation, it should document the pre-construction condition of the interior and exterior of the building.  Developers should request the right to conduct such an inspection during initial negotiations with the adjacent property owner.  If there is a dispute later, the pre-construction survey provides the best evidence of the condition of the adjacent building before construction activities commenced.

Settlement Monitoring

We recommend that excavating developers monitor whether settlement is occurring on adjacent properties during the course of its excavation and other construction activities.  The developer should negotiate the right to establish survey measurements on the exterior elevation of neighboring buildings, and should periodically determine if settlement has occurred.  Consultation with experts will help determine what level of settlement is acceptable, and at what threshold work should stop so that the impact of any settlement may be evaluated.

Crane Installation and Operation

A mobile crane may be sufficient to facilitate the construction of smaller projects.  In those cases, developers should consider where the mobile crane will be placed and for what period(s) of time.  It may be necessary to negotiate with an adjacent property owner to allow the crane to be temporarily placed on the adjacent property.  Developers should be mindful that some jurisdictions require a neighbor agreement for issuance of a street space permit if the mobile crane will be placed in the adjacent right of way.

Most larger projects require the use of a tower crane.  Generally speaking, an agreement from a neighboring property owner is not required if a tower crane will merely weathervane over an adjacent property, and will not carry live loads over neighboring land.  However, when other negotiations are being undertaken, it is advisable to incorporate a crane swing agreement when a tower crane will be used.


When a developer’s construction will require the installation of ground-supported scaffolding over the boundary line with an adjacent property, it is necessary to secure consent from the adjacent property owner.  If cantilevered scaffolding will be installed as vertical construction progresses, or if a swing stage may be used during construction, it is recommended that an agreement be negotiated notwithstanding legal authorities concerning the use of airspace over adjacent land.


In circumstances where a new building will abut an adjacent building, the developer often wants to install flashing or other waterproofing between the buildings.  Where the installation will require access to the adjacent building or the flashing assembly will cross the boundary line between the properties, an agreement should be negotiated.  It is advisable for developers to conduct that negotiation during the pre-construction negotiations of other agreements, rather than undertaking such negotiations near the end of the construction process.

Developers should also consider post-installation maintenance when negotiating for the installation of flashing.  A complete agreement will outline whether one or both property owners has the obligation to maintain, repair and/or replace the flashing in the future, who will bear the associated costs, and what happens in the event that the flashing and/or one of the buildings is damaged by a casualty.

Post-Construction Maintenance

A project’s need for access to an adjacent property may not end when construction is complete.  That is particularly true with lot-line buildings, where it may be necessary to use a swing stage to clean and maintain the building’s exterior.  Developers should consider post-construction operational issues, and negotiate with adjacent owners about them during pre-construction negotiations.

Indemnity and Insurance

Risk allocation is a necessary part of any construction logistics agreement between adjacent property owners.  Developers should be mindful that the owner of the neighboring property will likely expect to be named as an additional insured under the developer’s liability insurance policies.  The express indemnity language in the agreement may control the scope of the insurance coverage that the neighbor receives.  One of the developer’s goals should be to avoid assuming uninsured liabilities.

When the relationship between the developer and the adjacent property owner will continue after the completion of construction – through a post-construction maintenance agreement, access agreement, or otherwise – consideration should be given to indemnity and insurance obligations, going forward.  In particular, the developer should consider whether and to what extent it may reduce the amount of liability insurance it carries after construction.  A high-limit Owner-Controlled Insurance Program (OCIP) will likely be replaced with a Commercial General Liability (CGL) policy with lower limits, in keeping with the operation of a commercial building.  The agreement should account for such reduction in coverage.

Dispute Resolution

Developers may also wish to negotiate about how construction and other disputes with an adjacent property owner will be resolved.  Mediation followed by judicial reference – a hybrid between litigation and arbitration – may provide the best opportunity for parties to reach a compromise of issues between them, while avoiding the cost and other pitfalls of litigation.

Existing Conditions on Adjacent Property

When a developer negotiates for what it requires to construct its project, it should consider how the construction activities may impact the adjacent building.  If the adjacent property has lot-line windows that must be closed, for example, the developer may benefit from offering the adjacent property owner the opportunity to perform that work.  In some cases, the adjacent owner may appreciate site access to waterproof the exterior of its building (above-grade and/or below grade).  Goodwill may be gained by offering to provide such accommodation, as long as work on the project is not materially delayed.

Every project presents its own construction challenges and logistical needs.  We recommend that developers evaluate those challenges and needs early, so that there is sufficient time to negotiate any agreements with neighbors that may be necessary for the project to proceed.  Forward-thinking developers benefit from early negotiations because they have an occasion to build goodwill with their neighbors, make adjustments to their project as may be necessary to accommodate neighbor concerns, and work around challenges when negotiations fail.  They are also able to negotiate from a position of strength and negotiate an agreement that benefits their project as well as the owner of the adjacent property.



Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Corie A. Edwards.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.