Saving mountain lions used as defense against building housing in Woodside

A brewing debate in one Peninsula city pits animal advocates against housing advocates. And the outcome could determine where much-needed housing is – or isn’t – built.

It’s hard to miss a housing construction site somewhere in the South Bay or along the Peninsula. Unless, you’re in Woodside..

The affluent enclave of 5,000 residents sits to the west of the Highway 280, and nestles into the mountains of San Mateo County.

Unlike its neighbors, Woodside leaders have paused duplex construction on single home lots as allowed by Senate Bill 9. The new law took effect in January.

They say that's because this is mountain lion country.

In a Jan. 27 memo, Woodside’s planning director wrote, "Given that Woodside – in its entirety – is habitat for a candidate species (to go on the endangered list), no parcel within Woodside is currently eligible for an SB 9 project."

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The species in question is the mountain lion. Each year, Bay Area residents come face-to-face with the mercurial cats. Numerous pets have been attacked and killed in encounters.

Woodside leaders say duplexes can’t be built as long as mountain lions could go on the state’s endangered species list.

"Woodside and the area surrounding Woodside is mountain lion habitat," said Ken Paglia, of the California Department of Fish & Wildlife.

He said the technicality being used by Woodside leaders is sound.

Paglia’s department is researching if mountain lions should be listed as endangered. Then, they’ll make a recommendation to the California  Fish & Game Commission.

"It’s just elitism and classism, and they need to own up to that," said Shaunn Cartwright, a South Bay housing advocate.

She and others are furious a loophole in the law could allow Woodside to avoid adding more housing.

"It’s just building more housing on the same acreage. It doesn’t encroach on any mountain lion territory," said Cartwright.

State officials said there’s nothing to keep other municipalities from using the same process to slow or halt SB-9 housing construction..

"Any open space that has deer, has mountain lions. So under that definition, there’s a lot of areas that would be considered mountain lion territory," said Paglia. 

"There are well-off people and there are poor people in every single neighborhood," said Cartwright. 

The Department of Fish & Wildlife survey should be completed sometime this year, which will then produce a recommendation to the Fish & Game Commission. The commission then votes whether to add mountain lions to the endangered species list.

KTVU reached out to every member of the Woodside Town Council, the town clerk, and members of the town’s planning commission. No one returned the numerous emails or calls.