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A 1-foot-wide piece of land? A tiny banana-shaped parcel? They were almost part of Orinda’s housing plan.

A 1-foot-wide sliver of land sandwiched between a road and a backyard pool. A “vacant” site next to a water sanitation building. A handful of minuscule parcels—one of them shaped like a banana, another a triangle—tucked behind single-family homes.

These were some of the most absurd examples of the properties Orinda tried to pass off as future housing sites, in its attempt to meet the California Department of Housing and Community Development’s lofty goal to build 1,359 units of housing by 2031.

They were among the 40 different sites that made the final draft of the city’s Housing Element inventory—and were reposted only six days before the state’s Jan. 31 deadline—before a campaign of ridicule from Twitter watchdogs and housing advocates on social media forced Orinda officials to drop them.

Kevin Burke, a local software developer who serves on the board of East Bay for Everyone, said he started flagging a handful of Orinda’s 300 proposed sites back in December. He posted the problems he found on Twitter, since he didn’t have time to look through the entire inventory for places that weren’t reasonably feasible to support development.

“But Kyle (Huey) actually did,” Burke said in a phone interview. “He told me he got mad enough to go through all of them.”

This 846-square-foot parcel was originally included in Orinda’s Housing Element as a potential site for housing development. (Courtesy of the Contra Costa County Assessor’s Office) 

Local governments have been so successful in skirting laws and evading their fair share of new housing construction that state housing officials have assigned staff to specifically keep an eye on the worst-offending cities.

Most notably, elders in Woodside declared that the entire town was exempt from approving any new housing, because it was a habitat for endangered mountain lions, while any property in Sonoma that’s considered for construction of a new duplex must have at least three mature trees and 10 shrubs.

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