Woodside's claim as mountain lion sanctuary called illegal by state AG

A California town’s plan to declare itself a mountain lion sanctuary as a way to avoid having to build more housing is against the law, the state attorney general said Sunday.

The wealthy Silicon Valley enclave of Woodside announced in a memorandum last week that it was exempt from a new state housing law that allows for duplex development on single-family lots because the entire town is habitat for endangered cougars.

The town of Woodside has a population of 5,300 people and the median home price is about $4 million.

It's one of the most affluent communities not just in the Bay Area, but in the nation – which is why it raised some eyebrows when town officials said last month that they were exempt from Senate Bill 9, which seeks to increase housing availability by allowing denser development.

But on Sunday, Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a letter to officials in the town of 5,500 residents saying that Woodside’s declaration is a "deliberate and transparent attempt" to avoid complying with Senate Bill 9, which was enacted last year, 

"This broad, categorical, absolute declaration that the entire town of Woodside is somehow a mountain lion habitat is rather remarkable," Bonta said on Sunday at a virtual news conference.  "They are saying quite literally that the roads that automobiles drive on, that homes people live in that those places are a mountain lion habitat."

"This memorandum is — quite clearly — contrary to the law, and ironically, contrary to the best interests of the mountain lions the town claims to want to protect," Bonta added in his letter. "My message to Woodside is simple: Act in good faith, follow the law, and do your part to increase the housing supply. If you don’t, my office won’t stand idly by."

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Any exemption under SB 9 requires the town to examine the attributes of an individual parcel of land, the attorney general’s office said. 

"An entire town cannot be declared habitat for a protected species, and the exemption of a specific lot would have to be based on substantial evidence," the statement said.

In response, Woodside town managers held a special meeting Sunday night to discuss the issue and the legal consequences of not complying with the law.

After closed session, they came back and announced they would comply with SB 9.

They’ll start accepting some applications for new housing projects that include duplexes and four-plexes on Monday. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.