The fur is flying in the fashionable tech billionaire quarters of Woodside, where the mansion-dwellers argue they can’t comply with a new state housing law because it’s a mountain lion habitat.
San Mateo County’s toniest district of Woodside is famed for its number of tech billionaires and investment bluebloods who choose to reside there. Steve Jobs famously tore down his historic mansion just to build another one there. Oracle’s Larry Ellison has one of his many estates there (on which he blew $200 million, and per Forbes, has ten buildings, a lake, and a koi pond). And according to Bloomberg, retired investment legend Charles Schwab lives there too. There are but 5,500 people living in Woodside, and with a median home price of $4.5 million, they are all wealthier than you.
Wealthy Silicon Valley suburb Woodside — median household income $250k — declares the entire town "mountain lion habitat" in an attempt to sidestep a new state law allowing duplexes on single-family home lots https://t.co/IFR74HdWyM— Liam Dillon (@dillonliam) February 2, 2022
Which is why it seems implausible that Woodside now says it cannot comply with a new state housing law called the California HOME Act (SB 9), because the unincorporated town is supposedly a mountain lion habitat. According to the LA Times, town planning director Jackie Young backed the town council’s rejection of the housing expansion, writing in a memo that “Given that Woodside — in its entirety — is habitat for a candidate species, no parcel within Woodside is currently eligible for an SB 9 project.”
Woodside announced it’s exempt from state housing law because of … mountain lions.— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) February 2, 2022
I’m all for mountain lions. I’m also for people. You know, the ones who need homes.
Can’t wait for the lawsuit against Woodside for this brazen violation of state law. https://t.co/Ig5Zc4Dik3
SB 9 advocate State Senator Scott Wiener, is understandably growling back. “It’s a ridiculous argument,” Wiener told the Bay Area News Group. “This is not really a loophole. If housing wasn’t such a serious crisis, this would be a joke.”
(SB 9 is sort of a statewide version of SF’s proposed fourplex legislation, allowing up to four units on a single-family lot.)
While Woodside abuts and contains mountain lion habitat, a blanket prohibition against adding an additional unit on an already developed parcel anywhere in the town is neither required by the California Endangered Species Act, nor contributing to the protection of mountain lions. https://t.co/NCGOub6PEK— Mountain Lion Fdn (@MtnLionFdn) February 3, 2022
And even the Mountain Lion Foundation has jumped in to call out the ridiculousness of the claim.
“Concern for mountain lions is not what’s driving that policy, because it’s not what any mountain lion expert would recommend doing,” foundation spokesperson Josh Rosenau told the LA Times. He notes that housing exemptions would actually paradoxically push more residents to rural areas, creating more — not fewer — threats to the cougar, puma, and mountain lion populations.
Certainly freeway collisions and urban sprawl are dwindling the mountain lion populations, yet Woodside’s objection to splitting its precious parcels seems motivated by something else. But this is the oddest version yet of the cat and mouse game to evade the latest state housing regulations — and it's not likely to be the last time we see a city or town making weird excuses for why nothing new or affordable can be built there.
Image: Andy Holmes via Unsplash