The town of Portola Valley in San Mateo County, which is one of the richie-richest zip codes in the Bay Area, had a Housing Element that only called for 64 new units to be built in then next decade. The state has now made an example of the town and unleashed the "builder's remedy" on them.

San Francisco has a lot of building to do in the next few years to avoid incurring the wrath of California's Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) — which the city already did late last year, after getting its Housing Element signed off on by the state early last year. The city has ambitious plans to get 82,000 new units built by 2031, which seems like a crazy number, and approvals have been off to a slow start.

But Portola Valley is only on the hook to approve 253 new units over the next seven years, and they have to complete rezoning of some properties in order to accomplish this, which the town says they have been in the process of doing. The mandate also stipulates that 152 of the new units must be affordable to low- and moderate-income households — and it's here that places like Portola Valley tend to push back, because, you know, poor people.

But! As town council member Jeff Aalfs tells the Chronicle this week, they have a plan to build about 50 affordable units in a section of Dorothy Ford Park, and they've cobbled together a plan for the other 200 required units as well, which includes a hope that 102 accessory dwelling units will be built on the properties of other, larger homes. But the town is short-staffed, and they need another few months to complete the rezoning process for some other properties.

"It was clear [state officials] knew the rezoning would be done within a few months," Aalfs tells the paper. "We had a solid plan, designed to encourage the housing that needs to be built to comply with the Housing Element. We were very upfront with them."

Still, HCD dinged Portola Valley and made them the first California city to officially have their housing element revoked. That means, until it's re-certified, property owners and developers can legally get permits to build things without going through the town's planning apparatus or the town council — what's known as the "builder's remedy."

We already saw this happen in February 2023 in the nearby town of Los Altos, where a homeowner submitted a plan to build 20 units on his property after Los Altos was among dozens of Bay Area cities that blew the deadline for approving their Housing Elements last winter. That plan was effectively a "fuck you" to the town council for years of bureaucracy that had held up his plans to make improvements on his property, and Los Altos managed to quash it thanks to a technicality.

As the Los Altos Town Crier reported in August 2023, the homeowner, Sasha Zbrozek, had not formally submitted and signed his plans until June 2, which was two days after Los Altos had finally gotten its Housing Element signed off on by HCD. Therefore, the town said, they were legally able to reject Zbrozek builder's-remedy project.

It sounds like Zbrozek is continuing to fight the issue, and the battle may not be over yet.

Property owners in Portola Valley could see a similar window of opportunity here, though we'll have to wait to see if anyone gets away with such a project.

Previously: Los Altos Hills Homeowner Is Giving the ‘Builder’s Remedy’ a Go, Submits Plans to Build 20-Unit Complex On His Property