Ruegg & Ellsworth v. City of BerkeleyAnnotate this Case
Developers submitted an application for a Berkeley mixed-use development with 135 apartments over 33,000 square feet of retail space and parking, pursuant to Government Code section 65913.4, which provides for streamlined, ministerial approval of affordable housing projects meeting specified requirements. The site is the location of the West Berkeley Shellmound, “believed to have been one of the first of its kind at the Bay’s edge, built ca 3,700 B.C.,” part of a City of Berkeley Landmark. Shellmounds were “sacred burial sites for the average deceased mound-dweller,” slowly constructed over thousands of years from daily debris and artifacts. The city denied the application.
The court of appeal ruled in favor of the developers. There is no evidence that the project “would require the demolition of a historic structure that was placed on a . . . historic register.” Remnants and artifacts could be disturbed, but that is not the issue under section 65913.4(a)(7)(C). With regard to tribal cultural resources, the project’s draft environmental impact report concluded impacts on the Shellmound would be reduced to “a less-than-significant level” by agreed-upon mitigation measures. Given the Legislature’s history of attempting to address the state’s housing crisis and frustration with local governments’ interference with that goal, and the highly subjective nature of historical preservation, the intrusion of section 65913.4 into local authority is not broader than necessary to achieve the legislation's purpose.