Seeno invokes ‘builder’s remedy’ to force Benicia’s hand on major housing project, but the city is pushing back

March 20, 2024

The battle over urban development and housing policy has escalated in Benicia, exposing tensions between developers, local governance, community sentiment, and the state as Sacramento works to increase California’s housing stock.

The proposed Rose Estates project, shared by the City of Benicia in the Facebook post pictured above and an official City webpage, could turn more than 527 acres of the former Benicia Business Park into a new community. With 1,080 new homes, 20 percent of which could be allocated for lower-income families, and 250,000 square feet of new commercial space, the company proposing the development touted it as Benicia’s most “expeditious” path to meeting its housing obligations.

But before the City deemed that application complete, the Seeno-owned West Coast Home Builders, LLC (WCHB; hereafter referred to simply as”Seeno”), raised the stakes on March 12 by submitting an updated application under the provisions of the “builder’s remedy,” drawing scrutiny from Benicia city officials and residents alike.

Seeno in Benicia

The genesis for the proposed development in Benicia’s former business park, also known as the North Study Area, reaches back many years. After City staff and leadership held several “visioning” sessions on the area’s future in 2023, Seeno representatives submitted a preliminary housing application for the space on September 15, 2023.

Since then, talks between Benicia and Seeno appear to have soured, culminating in the developer’s apparent decision to submit its “complete” application on March 12 under the provisions of the builder’s remedy, according to the City of Benicia.

The builder’s remedy is a legal mechanism under state housing law that allows developers to bypass local planning regulations for housing projects if a city fails to meet its Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) targets or pass a state-certified “housing element” that abides by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD)’s allocation requirements. In its March 12, application, Seeno claimed that “Per HCD website [sic], the City did not meet its housing allocation […]. Consequently, the City is subject to the most stringent provisions of various housing laws […] [that] greatly limits local control over housing.”

Benicia City Council Member Kari Birdseye addressed Seeno’s assertion that Benicia was vulnerable to the builder’s remedy in the City’s Facebook post’s comments section, writing that “Our Housing Element has been certified and was before [Seeno’s] latest plan was submitted. The City is now evaluating the application and will be keeping our community updated as public hearings and other milestones happen.”

It is unclear why the City is listed as negligent in fulfilling its obligations on the HCD website when City officials state otherwise. (Benicia’s City Attorney did not respond to requests for clarification at publication time; this post will be updated to include comment if/when it is provided.)

But whether or not Benicia is truly vulnerable to the builder’s remedy, opponents of the project insist that Seeno’s invocation of it represents the developer’s cynical intention to abandon its first application, for a project that would have to abide by Benicia’s zoning and planning rules, to advance a nearly identical project, one that could be unencumbered by those rules.

Other issues

The threat of having to face the builder’s remedy wasn’t the only issue the City took with Seeno’s applications. According to letters issued from Benicia’s Community and Development Department , Seeno failed to complete both its September 15 and March 12 applications, preventing Benicia from lawfully deeming them submitted.

Most glaringly, the City claims that it has been unable to verify who currently owns the Seeno empire and the land in Benicia to be developed due to active litigation. A family dispute over the control and leadership of the Seeno construction and development empire is making its way through the court system, and until the matter of who exactly Seeno belongs to is fully resolved, any application submitted by a Seeno company cannot be considered complete. (Albert Jr. and Thomas Seeno asserted principal ownership of the company in Rose Estates applications.)

A list of the application’s other critical omissions included the absence of a site plan with the project’s proposed heights for residences and square footage for commercial buildings, information about “bonus units and any incentives,” and proof that a portion of the property does not qualify as Wetlands, which would be subject to certain environmental protections.

The City’s has so far issued two responses to the September 15 application. The first was a December 13 letter from Jason Hade, Planning Manager for Benicia’s Community Development Department, that noted the omissions but included a a friendly offer for assistance. After a January 9, 2024 meeting where a Seeno representative apparently asserted the application was, despite the noted omissions, actually complete, Hade responded in a February 29 letter that the omissions were a nonstarter.  He also downgraded his offer of support to advise that Seeno could complete its application through the City’s online permit center.

It is currently unclear what additional impacts to the City’s relationship with Seeno may emerge as a result of the developer’s invocation of the builder’s remedy in its March 19 application. Regardless, as the City considers the threat the builder’s remedy poses in terms of allowing Seeno to bypass local zoning, the Rose Estates project has started to appear as less of a miracle solution to Benicia’s housing allocation issues, and more of a threat to the norms, policies and procedures that have, until now, allowed the city to govern development in its own jurisdiction.



City of Benicia North Study Area (Seeno property)

For current information from the City of Benicia, check out their North Study Area web page,