By Suzanne Iarla, Communications Analyst, City of Lafayette
On Friday, November 12, 2021, the Contra Costa Superior Court upheld the City of Lafayette’s approval of the Terraces of Lafayette project of the O’Brien Land Company. The project would build 315 apartments, including 63 affordable housing units, on a 22-acre parcel at the southwest corner of Deer Hill Road and Pleasant Hill Road. In its ruling, the Court rejected claims by Save Lafayette, a citizens group, and found that the City’s environmental review complied with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and that the Terraces project was consistent with the City’s General Plan.
The Terraces project has been in process for over ten years — the developer’s application dates back to March 2011. Since then, the City has worked to address community and regional concerns, including by considering a proposed alternative 44 single-family home project with a community park. The City approved the alternative project in 2015. Save Lafayette initiated the referendum process to overturn that approval in 2018.
After the alternative project was rejected by the voters, the City resumed processing the original Terraces project application. In compliance with the strict requirements of State law, including the Housing Accountability Act, the City approved the Terraces project in August 2020.
Save Lafayette sued in September 2020 to overturn the approval, in an effort to stop the Terraces project on environmental and General Plan consistency issues. After over a year of litigation, the Superior Court rejected Save Lafayette’s claims and affirmed that the City’s CEQA review and approval of the Project complied with the law. The Court’s ruling will become final unless Save Lafayette appeals within 60 days following the notice of entry of judgment.
Developer Calls Court Decision “Major Victory”
The developer issued their own press release announcing last Friday court’s decision:
In a major victory for housing rights, the Contra Costa Superior Court on Friday, Nov. 12 issued a ruling rejecting in full Save Lafayette’s lawsuit challenging the Terraces of Lafayette, a 315-unit apartment community by O’Brien Land Company. After nearly 10 years of processing and 120 public hearings, the Lafayette City Council approved the project by a 4-1 vote in August 2020.
“We have had many local people reach out to us to ask when they can rent an apartment at the Terraces,” said Dennis O’Brien of O’Brien Land Company. “The need for this type of housing is apparent, and we look forward to no further delays so we can provide homes for those individuals and families.”
The project site is adjacent to Highway 24 and located one mile from the Lafayette BART station. The Terraces is considered an affordable housing project under state housing law and will set aside 20%, or 63, of its dwelling units for lower income households. This will substantially assist Lafayette in meeting its Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) for the lower income categories assigned to it by long-standing state law.
Despite the project’s robust legal protections under controlling state law, Save Lafayette has been opposing the project for years. The anti-development group also opposed a 44 single-family home compromise project by filing litigation and a ballot referendum that overturned the smaller project. Once the voters rejected the smaller project, O’Brien and the City of Lafayette resumed processing the apartments.
Although the affordable housing development included a full Environmental Impact Report, Save Lafayette’s lawsuit claimed the City’s approval of the project violated the California Environmental Quality Act, a law frequently employed by anti-development groups to challenge new housing. The lawsuit also claimed the project was not entitled to the protection of the Housing Accountability Act, which shields housing developments from changes in local land use laws after an application is deemed complete. The Superior Court rejected Save Lafayette’s arguments and agreed that the City complied with the law.
“When people ask why we have a housing crisis in California, they should look no further than this project for answers,” Bay Area Council Senior Vice President Matt Regan emphasized. “Over 10 years of foot dragging, goalpost moving, ballot measures and lawsuits, finally the construction of these much- needed homes can now begin. This saga highlights the need for more reforms to state law so that good housing projects no longer have to run this sort of gauntlet and can be approved swiftly and fairly.”
For more information on the project, visit www.lovelafayette.org/Terraces.
Allen Payton contributed to this report.