Following four days of widespread scorn after attempting to block a new state law allowing duplexes on single-family lots by declaring itself a “mountain-lion habitat,” the wealthy Silicon Valley enclave of Woodside has backed down.
At the end of a nearly 90-minute town emergency Town Council meeting Sunday night, almost all of which was held in closed session to discuss potential litigation, city officials announced they would begin accepting applications for new duplexes.
The change came after a whirlwind sparked by a story published Wednesday in the Almanac local newspaper, revealing that city officials would refuse to permit duplexes and other projects allowed under Senate Bill 9 because the entire community sits in land that’s habitat for potentially endangered mountain lions.
The town of 5,500 is one of the most high-end communities in California and an enclave for tech titans. Oracle founder Larry Ellison reportedly spent $200 million building a Japanese-style 16th century imperial palace across 23 acres in Woodside.
The bid to evade the housing law, which took effect Jan. 1, was especially brazen because under the definition of “mountain-lion habitat” used by Woodside, all of coastal California south of San Francisco, including the entirety of Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties would qualify.
Woodside officials had defended the move as sensitive to the big cats, but others had questioned why the town was OK with permitting mansions but not duplexes.
Even cougar defenders criticized Woodside. Josh Rosenau, a conservation advocate for the Mountain Lion Foundation, told The Times last week that blanket prohibitions against growth in already developed areas isn’t required by the state’s endangered species laws and doesn’t actually protect pumas.
“Concern for mountain lions is not what’s driving that policy because it’s not what any mountain-lion expert would recommend doing,” Rosenau said.
Earlier Sunday, Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta chastised the city in a letter, saying its policy was both against the law and the California Constitution, and requested Woodside change course.
In a statement read by Assistant Town Atty. Kai Ruess at the end of Sunday night’s meeting, town officials did not address Bonta’s letter or the outcry surrounding its decision. Instead, they blamed a lack of guidance on endangered species laws from state wildlife officials for the duplex ban.
“The Department of Fish and Wildlife advised that the entire town of Woodside cannot be considered habitat,” Ruess said. “As such, the Town Council has directed staff to immediately begin accepting SB 9 applications.”