After making national news for shutting down all projects under a new state housing law by citing an exemption for mountain lion habitats, Woodside residents told the Town Council to do better.
The town froze applications for California's new split-lot law, Senate Bill 9, but reversed the decision on Feb. 6 facing a lawsuit and a warning from California Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Resident Bob Wilson called on the Town Council to freeze pay increases for Town Manager Kevin Bryant and Planning Director Jackie Young and conduct a full investigation into their "mishandling" of SB 9 projects in town.
"If there is wrongdoing, immediate consequences must follow," he said in a letter to the town. "No more handling with kid gloves for these two. Please, do not subject the citizens of this town to more embarrassment and humiliation."
Bryant clarified that the council was not voting on raises during the meeting. The council approved Bryant's raise in September 2021, effective Jan. 1, 2022, according to the staff report.
Bryant said the council "didn't give any indication" that it would take action based on Wilson's comment.
Virginia Dare, the planning commissioner who suggested the mountain lion loophole to the Town Council, said that while the memo freezing SB 9 projects went out until Young’s name, "it was likely prepared in collaboration with others at the town," such as the town attorney and town manager.
Dare said she recognized that the statement that went out under Young's signature could have been more nuanced and could have reflected better the Town Council's decision to pause accepting SB 9 applications, adding that she's worked closely with Young since she joined the town staff. "And now as a planning commissioner, I continue to have the utmost confidence in Jackie, she is unequivocally one of the most professional and ethical people I have worked with. She also cares deeply about our town, and the welfare of the people who live in it," Dare said.
Dare said that many newspapers are trying to generate clicks on their stories and it isn't the first time "lightning rod issues" have ended up in the press. She suggested the town find a public relations expert in case an issue like this comes up in the future.
Daniel Yost, a former council member and 19-year resident of Woodside, urged the town not to support a proposed constitutional amendment that calls for more control over local land use, which came up at the same meeting as the mountain lion exemption.
"Tonight's agenda does not include how the town can turn itself into a national punch line about wealthy communities going to extremes to avoid letting their residents add housing. What's not on tonight's agenda is the use taxpayer money to ask staff to come up with novel arguments to shirk our housing commitments, potentially opening up the town to lawsuits. And not on the agenda tonight is using the office of mayor and town council time on the dais to push a constitutional amendment designed to preempt many state laws, including civil rights laws, fair housing laws and environmental laws ..." Yost said. "Mr. Mayor, these items are not on tonight's agenda because that was the agenda for your last public meeting."
The constitutional amendment was put forth by a group called Our Neighborhood Voices, which argues that the majority of the state's land planning efforts "take away the authority of local jurisdictions to determine for themselves the land use policies and practices that best suit each city and instead imposes 'one-size fits-all' mandates that do not take into account the unique needs and challenges faced by local jurisdictions."
Mayor Dick Brown supports the amendment, and said he has been gathering signatures for the initiative. The item was tabled for a future meeting, however, following concerns raised by Councilman Ned Fluet.
"You might feel I'm being unfair to bring this up now since you've backed off some of (the SB 9 freeze)," Yost said. "There are areas where we would want to reasonably approach the state such as limiting new housing and high fire zones which makes sense to me. And I fear our recent actions have caused us to lose credibility as the town that cried wolf or mountain lion."
More on the mountain lion clause
On Jan. 25, as first reported by The Almanac, the town put an indefinite hold on all housing projects allowed under SB 9 because of a clause in the law that prohibits development in areas identified as habitats for protected species. The move came after a council study session on the same day, when the council discussed the mountain lion clause but did not formally vote on it, according to Cardinale.
Town staff consulted with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife about how to identify a habitat, according to Bryant. So far, the town has received no applications for development projects that would utilize SB 9, he said.
The department has since advised that the entire town cannot be considered habitat, said Deputy Town Attorney Kai Ruess on Feb. 6.
Yost brought up his concerns last week that the "excellent" Woodside Elementary School's enrollment figures are declining because families can't afford to move to town. The TK-8 grade public school has 365 students, Enrollment which is down almost 11% from the 2018-19 school year.
Matt Gar, who was appointed to the town’s Planning Commission during the Feb. 6 meeting, said he thought it was important to have representation from younger people in the town on the commission.
"We've seen declining enrollment; there's empty classrooms at this point," he said. "So how do we also make sure that the town is upholding some of these institutions like the elementary school, while also, you know, meeting the needs and continuing to uphold the character of the town."