Stanford sues Santa Clara County over housing law

University claims it’s been unfairly targeted by ‘inclusionary housing’ ordinance.

Stanford University on Wednesday filed two lawsuits against Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, charging county officials of unfairly and illegally targeting the university with a recently adopted law that aims to promote more affordable housing on campus.

The university is contesting the new “inclusionary housing” law, which the board approved on Sept. 25 and which requires the university to designate 16 percent of all new housing units as below-market-rate housing. The two lawsuits, filed in state and federal courts, allege that the county’s law violates the Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. and California constitutions, which prohibit government entities from treating one individual differently from others in similar circumstances.

The university also indicated that it plans to sue the county over a separate law that the board had also passed on Sept. 25, one that significantly raised the “housing impact fees” that Stanford has to pay for every square foot of new development. Under the law, the fee is slated to go up from $36.22 to $68.50 per square foot.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, Stanford takes issues with both policies, though the new suit only pertains to the “inclusionary housing” law (Stanford has a later deadline for challenging the ordinance on impact fees). It argues that the county is illegally forcing Stanford to bear the burden of solving what the county itself had determined to be a regional problem: A severe shortage of affordable housing.

By targeting Stanford with its new affordable-housing requirement, the county is violating the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from denying “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” the university alleges in a complaint.

“The County ordinance impermissibly singles out Stanford University,” Geoffrey L. Robinson, of the firm Perkins Coie LLP, wrote on behalf of Stanford in the federal lawsuit. “Through its ordinance, the County has intentionally imposed affordable housing requirements exclusively on housing development constructed by Stanford.”

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