All this litigation and pressure from the state and advocacy groups on the question of housing production is leading to something. The question is whether it will lead to more housing.

Just in the past two months, we’ve seen a series or dramatic legal rulings and settlements. Here are just a few:

  • A Los Angeles judge suspended Beverly Hills’ permitting power because he concluded the city doesn’t have a valid housing element. (CP&DR coverage here.)
  • The City of Clovis settled a legal dispute over its housing element by agreeing to take serious steps to zone for and fund affordable housing. (CP&DR coverage here.)
  • The City of Berkeley was ordered to pay $2.6 million in lost profits – plus $1.4 million in attorneys fees – to a housing developer whose SB 35 project the city initially rejected. (CP&DR coverage here.)
  • And the City of Davis settled a legal dispute with a developer pursuing a builder’s remedy project, agreeing to process the project without the public vote that would ordinarily be required. (CP&DR coverage here.)

Rarely have I ever seen this much significant legal activity around housing in such a short period of time. And it remains to be seen whether these rulings and settlements will lead to the construction of a lot of new housing. Housing production remains stubbornly low despite state laws and lots of litigation for a variety of reasons that I described in a previous insight column here.)

But the four cases – two judge’s rulings and two settlement agreements – are significant nevertheless. The judge’s rulings are far more aggressive than anything we’ve seen lately. The two legal settlements show just how far cities are willing to go to get out of legal trouble. And – interestingly – none of the four cases involve Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office.

Interestingly, the Berkeley and Beverly Hills judge’s rulings are among the most viewed CP&DR stories since the beginning of the year, while the Davis and Clovis legal settlements didn’t get much play.

Maybe CP&DR’s readers are just as seduced by brand-name cities as anybody else. How can you not read a story about Berkeley or Beverly Hills getting hammered by a judge over housing.

Or maybe a judge’s ruling is a lot scarier than a legal settlement, especially when it involves money or power. No planner wants to think that their day-to-day decisions will cause their city to have to pay money to a developer or surrender permitting power.

But in many ways the Davis and Clovis stories are just as significant – because, as I said before, they indicate just how much cities are willing to give up in order to avoid winding up in the kind of legal trouble that Beverly Hills and Berkeley landed in.

And these two legal settlements are much more unfavorable to cities than other recent housing-related settlements, such as the pre-litigation settlement reached a few months ago between Bonta’s office and the City of Coronado. In that settlement, both sides got something. Bonta got the city to rezone several pieces of property for housing. But Coronado got to count Naval housing and presumed carriage-house conversions toward its housing target – steps that other cities have not previously gotten approved. (CP&DR’s coverage of the Coronado settlement can be found here.)

In the Davis and Clovis legal settlements, the cities didn’t get much. And in Clovis – which was much more behind the eight-ball than Davis – gave up a lot without getting anything in return.

Both Davis and Clovis have a controversial history. In 2000, they both had a population of about 65,000 people. Since then, however, they’ve got in different directions.

While politically liberal and supportive of affordable housing programs, the college town of Davis has had a requirement place since 2000 (Measure J) that rezoning agricultural land requires a vote. As a result, the city’s population is about the same now as it was in 2000, even though metro Sacramento’s population has grown by 60%.

Meanwhile, Clovis, an affluent suburb of Fresno, has long had the reputation. Clovis has accepting of new development; The city’s population has almost doubled in size since 2000, to more than 120,000, a rate of growth much faster than Fresno County as a whole. But, deservedly or not, the city has developed a reputation for being hostile to affordable housing.

Both cases revolved around the city’s housing element. In Davis, a developer claimed the city’s housing element was not compliant and filed a builder’s remedy application, which he claimed the city refused to process. He argued that the refusal to process constituted a denial of the project, which he said was illegal under the Housing Accountability Act and other laws. The city claimed the housing element had been approved.

In Clovis, Central California Legal Services and longtime housing rights attorney Patience Milrod went after the city’s “Regional Housing Needs” overlay district, saying the overlay district didn’t go far enough because it allowed but did not require affordable housing. Clovis was behind the eight-ball because CCLS and Milrod got a favorable appellate court ruling last year. (You can read CP&DR’s previous coverage of the appellate ruling here.)

In Davis, the city agreed to move forward with processing the application and not take the project to a vote as required by local ordinance – but the developer agreed to increase the amount of affordable housing and do an environmental impact report. So the settlement apparently does give the city some discretionary power and it doesn’t kill a local government’s power to put housing projects up for a vote – a concern that Davis and other cities must have had. (See my previous Insight column on this topic here.)

In Clovis, the city agreed to a wide range of concessions, including upzoning, a housing trust fund, use of city parcels for affordable housing, and impact fee deferrals and waivers.

Neither settlement is as glitzy as what we saw in Beverly Hills nor as financially punishing as the ruling in Berkeley. But they are undoubtedly the sign of things to come: Instead of battling developers forever, cities will increasingly fold and give up on cherished longtime local power in order to avoid an even worse outcome in course.