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Steve Falk. “A city manager has a choice,” he said. “You can just sit there and be this kind of neutral policy implementer — or you can insert yourself.”/ Credit Carlos Chavarría / The New York Times

When California’s housing crisis slammed into a wealthy suburb, one public servant became a convert to a radically simple doctrine.

By Conor Dougherty | The New York Times

The City Council of Lafayette, Calif., met the public two Mondays a month, and Steve Falk liked to sit off by himself, near the fire exit of the auditorium, so that he could observe from the widest possible vantage. Trim, with a graying buzz cut, Mr. Falk was the city manager — basically the chief executive — of Lafayette, a wealthy suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area that is notoriously antagonistic to development.

With a population of just 25,000, Lafayette was wealthy because it was a small town next to a big town, and it maintained its status by keeping the big town out. Locals tended to react to new building projects with suspicion or even hostility, and over a series of Mondays in 2012 and 2013, Mr. Falk took his usual spot by the fire exit to watch several dozen of his fellow Lafayetters absolutely lose their minds.

A developer had proposed putting 315 apartments on a choice parcel along Deer Hill Road — close to a Bay Area Rapid Transit station, and smack in the view of a bunch of high-dollar properties. This wasn’t just big. The project, which the developer called the Terraces of Lafayette, would be the biggest development in the suburb’s history. Zoning rules allowed it, but neighbors seemed to feel that if their opposition was vehement enough, it could keep the Terraces unbuilt.

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  • Published: 2 weeks ago on February 14, 2020
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