Editorial: Cougar sanctuary? Just another ridiculous attempt to circumvent the new housing law

When the wealthy suburb of Woodside on the San Francisco peninsula declared itself a habitat for cougars, it was such a shameless ploy to exempt itself from a new state law allowing greater housing density than even the Pumas’ defenders didn’t buy it.

But more importantly, neither did California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, who sent the city a letter Sunday telling officials that excuse wasn’t going to fly. After the letter – and much bad publicity caused by a story in the almanaca local newspaper – city officials wisely retreated from their position as quickly as a frightened mountain lion returned to the desert.

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 across the state have tried to cobble together ways around the problem. or to impose strict standards that could discourage owners from undertaking the construction project. For example, a new prescription in Los Altos Hills regulates exterior wall and lighting color, prohibits rooftop patios, and requires a hedge along the lot line near SB Unit 9.

At one point, the Pasadena Community Planning and Development Department urged the Pasadena City Council to investigate “a city-wide historical overlay.” (Historic districts are exempt from SB 9.) The animus for the housing density law is so intense that there is a campaign to secure a measure on the November ballot allowing local cities and counties to override state zoning laws. The Southern California Regional Council Assn. governments overwhelmingly endorsed it.

But pretending to be in wildlife habitat is among the most 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 seek protection under the California Endangered Species Act. A decision on this is expected this year.

But that doesn’t mean that every patch of land in this range is mountain lion habitat where the animals find shelter and food. Cougars may roam neighborhoods in the dead of night, but that doesn’t mean those neighborhoods are real habitat.

In fact, although Woodside contains a lion habitat, it does not extend to the entire town. “A blanket ban on adding an additional unit to an already developed parcel anywhere in the city is neither required by the California Endangered Species Act nor does it contribute to the protection of mountain lions,” the Mountain Lion Foundation said. in a press release. declaration.

Also, SB 9 is about filling, not spreading. Like Bonta explains in his letter For the city manager, restricting the production of housing in developed areas “would increase the likelihood of exurban sprawl which would negatively affect the habitat of cougars”.

He is right. Building more homes farther from urban centers encroaches on forests, foothills, and wilderness and impacts all manner of wildlife, such as tree-nesting birds or mountain lions roaming for territory.

Good for Bonta for calling Woodside town officials so quickly and letting them know their ordinance was illegal. It was an easy call in a high-profile, obviously ridiculous case.

Now, we want to see the Attorney General and other state officials show the same resolve to crack down on municipalities that try to overturn SB 9 in more mundane and subtle ways that might fly under the public radar.

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