Judge Nods Approval for County’s Housing Plan

From NapaValleyRegister.com, James Noonan, 6 Jun 2011.

[Napa Valley, CA] — Napa County has earned a likely victory in a lawsuit challenging its housing plan.

On Thursday, Napa County Superior Court Judge Ray Guadagni tentatively ruled that the county’s Housing Element — a long-term planning document — met the requirements of state law.

In his 2009 lawsuit, attorney David Grabill, representing Latinos Unidos del Valle de Napa y Solano, had asked that the court force the county to revise the document, claiming that it didn’t go far enough to provide housing to low-income residents in the unincorporated area.

On Monday, following the ruling, attorneys for both sides were back in court for additional arguments before Guadagni rules whether or not to make the tentative ruling a permanent one.

Guadagni could issue a decision as early as this week.

Grabill, on behalf of Latinos Unidos, first filed suit against the county in November 2009.

Much of Grabill’s complaint focused on the county’s housing plan, adopted by the Napa County Board of Supervisors in June 2009.

The plan provides for affordable housing at Spanish Flat, Moskowite Corner and Angwin as well as 20 acres, or about 300 units, at the former Napa Pipe site where developers are proposing a 2,580-home mixed-use development.

Three months after being approved by the board, the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development rejected the county’s housing plan, saying it was unlikely that affordable development would take place at the Spanish Flat, Moskowite Corner or Angwin sites.

Grabill filed suit shortly after, agreeing with the state’s assessment of the three unincorporated sites. “We think they’re totally infeasible for affordable housing,” he said.

While recognizing that the state had reached an opposite conclusion a year ago, Guadagni wrote that the sites in question satisfied the county’s obligation to plan for future housing.

“The court appropriately exercises its independent judgment in interpreting the relevant statute and concludes that the county’s identification of Angwin and Spanish Flat satisfied the requirement of deemed appropriate densities,” he wrote.

“We have not yet begun to fight,” Grabill said Monday.

In their lawsuit, Latinos Unidos is also claiming that a county ordinance offering a “density bonus” is invalid, and that the county has historically discriminated against low-income housing.

Grabill said he is seeking no monetary damages. He only hopes to see more low-income and farmworker housing constructed throughout the county.

The two sides will be back in court in mid-August to begin arguments on the remaining points of the lawsuit.

In past years, Latinos Unidos has successfully altered the course of county housing plans.

In 2003, the group filed a similar lawsuit that ultimately forced the county into costly housing deals with the cities of Napa and American Canyon.

Late last year, the group sued the developers of the proposed St. Regis luxury resort in the city of Napa, saying that the luxury project didn’t do enough to promote affordable housing. The suit was settled, with the developer agreeing to pay more than $4.4 million into the city’s housing fund once development starts.

Source: NapaValleyRegister.com, “Judge nods approval for county’s housing plan” by James Noonan, 6 Jun 2011.


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