Not Enough Bullets

The well-heeled Silicon Valley suburb of Woodside has come up with a novel way to block plans that would potentially bring in more affordable housing: Declare itself Cougar Town.

Last week, officials in the enclave of 5,500 people announced that all of Woodside was exempt from a new state housing law that allows for duplex development on single-family home lots.

The reason? The entire town is habitat for potentially endangered mountain lions.

Woodside’s decision drew quick scorn as a brazen attempt to evade even minimally denser development in one of California’s most exclusive locales. The bucolic, woodsy town near Stanford University and the heart of Silicon Valley has a median home value of $4.5 million. Among its residents have been the founders of technology giants Intuit, Intel and Symantec as well as Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who reportedly spent $200 million to build a Japanese-style 16th century imperial palace across 23 acres.


“Right now, you could have five people in a 5,000-square-foot mansion sharing one kitchen and it’s OK,” said Sonja Trauss, executive director of YIMBY Law, a San Francisco group that advocates for local governments to approve more housing. “But once you have two kitchens, it’s suddenly a problem for the mountain lions?”


Daniel Yost, a technology lawyer who served on the Woodside Town Council for five years until 2020, said some residents have realized the California dream and are stingy about allowing others to share in even of a fraction of it — if it means bringing in housing for those of more modest means.

“Don’t believe for a second that this is driven by mountain-lion habitat concerns,” Yost said. “It is not. It is resistance by some members of the Town Council to do our fair share in meeting housing requirements.”



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