On April 20, 2021, the First District Court of Appeal filed its first published opinion interpreting California Senate Bill 35’s streamlining provisions in Ruegg & Ellsworth v. City of Berkeley. The Court held that the City of Berkeley erred in finding a mixed-use development project ineligible for SB 35 streamlining. Because the project met the essential qualifications under SB 35, the First District commanded the trial court to issue a writ of mandate directing the City to approve the project without further environmental review. This marks the first published decision to enforce the State’s new affordable housing laws and is a harbinger of battles to come.
In 2015, the developer submitted an application for a mixed-use development on a surface parking lot that is part of a three-block area the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission designated as a City of Berkeley Landmark in 2000, as the location of the West Berkeley Shellmound. After several years of legal wrangling with the City and stakeholders over that proposal, and following the passage of SB 35, the developer submitted a new application, proposing a mixed-use project comprised of 260 dwelling units—50 percent of which were designated as “affordable to low-income households”—above approximately 27,500 square feet of retail space and parking. Continue Reading