Editorial: Mountain lion sanctuary? Just another ridiculous attempt to skirt new housing law
When the wealthy suburb of Woodside on the San Francisco Peninsula declared itself a mountain lion habitat, it was such a shameless ploy to exempt itself from a new state law allowing more housing density that not even mountain lion advocates bought it.
But more significantly, neither did California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, who sent the town a letter Sunday informing officials that that excuse was not going to fly. After the letter — and a lot of bad publicity sparked by a story in the Almanac, a local paper — town officials, wisely, retreated from their stance as quickly as a spooked mountain lion scampers back into the wilderness.
Ever since the passage last year of Senate Bill 9, the controversial law that allows up to four units on a single-family home lot, cities up and down the state have been trying to concoct ways to get around it or impose tough standards that might discourage property owners from taking on the building project. For example, a new ordinance in Los Altos Hills regulates the color of walls and exterior lighting, prohibits rooftop decks and requires a hedge along the parcel line near the SB 9 unit.
At one point, Pasadena’s Planning and Community Development Department urged the Pasadena City Council to investigate “a citywide historic overlay.” (Historic districts are exempt from SB 9.) Animus for the housing density law is so intense that there is a campaign to get a measure on the November ballot allowing local cities and counties to override state zoning laws. The Regional Council of the Southern California Assn. of Governments overwhelmingly endorsed it.
It’s outrageous that SCAG, the regional government authority in Southern California, would support a voter initiative to take back control over state housing laws.
But claiming to be in a wildlife habitat is among the more devious strategies. Yes, Woodside is part of the quarter of the state identified as the range of certain mountain lion populations for which the Mountain Lion Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity are seeking protection under the California Endangered Species Act. The decision on that is expected this year.
But that doesn’t mean every single piece of land within that range is mountain lion habitat where animals shelter and find food. Mountain lions may wander through neighborhoods in the dead of night, but that doesn’t mean those neighborhoods are actual habitat.
In fact, while Woodside does contain some lion habitat, that does not extend to the whole town. “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,” the Mountain Lion Foundation said in a statement.
Besides, SB 9 is about infill, not sprawl. As Bonta explains in his letter to the town manager, restricting housing production in developed areas “would increase the likelihood of exurban sprawl that will adversely affect the habitat of mountain lions.”
This architect is trying to save cougars from becoming roadkill on California freeways
Architect Robert Rock is designing a bridge over the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills that will stop mountain lions from becoming roadkill.
He is right. Building more homes farther from urban centers encroaches upon forests, foothills and wilderness and has an impact on all kinds of wildlife, such as birds nesting in trees or mountain lions roaming for territory.
Good for Bonta for so quickly calling out Woodside town officials and letting them know their ordinance was unlawful. This was an easy call in a high-profile, obviously ridiculous instance.
Now we want to see the attorney general and other state officials show that same determination in cracking down on municipalities trying to subvert SB 9 in more mundane and subtle ways that may fly under the public’s radar.
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