Six California Cities Snubbing Affordable Housing Developments, CAR Fights Back – NMP

Californians for Homeownership, a nonprofit organization sponsored by the California Association of Realtors (CAR), announced that it has filed lawsuits against six Southern California cities for violating state laws that require cities to plan housing development. The cities are Bradbury, La Habra Heights, Laguna Hills, Manhattan Beach, South Pasadena, and Vernon.

The group aims to address California’s housing crisis through impact litigation to enforce the requirements of California’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) and housing component laws. Under the RHNA system, state and local governments work together to identify regional housing needs and allocate them among cities and counties within a region. Each city or county must then develop a “housing component”, i.e. a component of the city’s overall plan that identifies available sites for future housing development sufficient to meet the city’s RHNA allocation. town. If the city cannot identify such sites, it must change its zoning laws to allow for the development of additional housing.

“The Housing Element process is a unique opportunity to create strong housing plans across the state,” said CAR Chairman Otto Catrina.

For years, even before the COVID-19-induced housing boom, there was regulatory hostility between state and local authorities. CalMatters, a nonprofit news organization, says the state is enacting laws to force cities to agree to building more affordable housing, especially to serve low-to-middle income families, and cities are countering the laws. and local regulations to evade their accommodation quotes.

City officials are employing all sorts of tactics to evade new housing construction. For example, when Senate Bill 9 passed in 2021 — authorizing the construction of up to four housing units on land zoned for single-family homes — city officials argued it usurped their authority over land use and would change the “character” of their neighborhoods, according to CalMatters.

Before the law took effect, Pasadena enacted an “emergency ordinance” that imposed strict and unworkable rules on what could be built. Additionally, Woodside, a very wealthy enclave in San Francisco, supported a petition to have cougars declared an endangered species and declared the entire city to be the habitat of cougars; therefore, it would be unsuitable for habitation.

Laura Foote, executive director of YIMBY Action, a pro-housing group, told the San Francisco Chronicle: “This is so absurd – this is an example of the extreme absurd lengths cities will go to to escape the law of State”.

“The purpose of these lawsuits is to fundamentally change the way California cities and counties approach their housing planning obligations,” Catrina said, referring to the six cities that evaded the state’s mandate to the RHNA. “For too long, cities have treated complying with these laws as optional, and we hope to end this approach.”

The RHNA plan was declared in 1969, broadly mandating that all cities, towns, and counties in California must plan for the housing needs of residents, regardless of income. On May 20, 2021, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) approved draft allocations from the RHNA, and housing items in the Southern California region were scheduled to arrive on October 15, 2021. Although some cities of Southern California have adopted the process, the six cities targeted for litigation missed the deadline prescribed by state law.

“Three of the cities we are suing had not even submitted a housing element project for review by state regulators when we approached them in March – which they were required to do in August of the last year,” said in-house counsel Matthew Gelfand. for the non-profit organization. “Time is running out, because we already have more than six months in the eight-year period that these cities are planning. Developers are waiting for those plans to be finalized, and every month these cities delay is another month of working with outdated land use rules that make housing development difficult.

CAR is suing Bradbury, La Habra Heights, Laguna Hills, South Pasadena, and Vernon for failing to pass updated housing elements within state deadlines. The cities were selected because they were far behind their peers in the housing element process, which demonstrates a hostility towards adequate housing planning for both.

These cities also have a rap sheet for escaping previous housing item cycles, allowing the process of their housing item development to drag on for years after state law deadlines. La Habra Heights, for example, did not develop its 2013 housing element until 2020. In addition, many Southern California cities have prioritized other non-urgent issues, such as taxation of policies aimed at limiting the production of housing, while postponing the process of the housing element.

“There are stiff penalties for not adopting a housing item under state law,” Gelfand said. “These penalties are designed to encourage cities to prioritize housing planning, which is a critical statewide issue, over less critical work.”

State law requires housing components to identify sites with potential for housing development over an eight-year planning period — by 2029. Sites with existing uses, such as shopping malls or apartment buildings offices, cities must provide evidence that existing uses will be abandoned during this time. Manhattan Beach’s housing component sits on a number of sites that have little or no chance of redevelopment by 2029. The city includes the Manhattan Country Club as a site to be developed for low-income housing, but the club was bought in 2017 by a national operator for $73 million, and the city has no reason to believe it will close anytime soon.

Each lawsuit against these six cities seeks an order requiring the city to adopt a compliant housing item on an expedited basis with a court declaration that the city is subject to certain state law penalties for noncompliance. Additionally, cities without a conforming housing feature are prohibited from using their regular zoning rules to reject certain types of subdivisions. The court also has the discretion to control certain aspects of a city’s land use approvals – for example, halting the issuance of all non-residential building permits or judicially approving housing development projects that have been blocked. by a city.

The lawsuits are:

Californians for Homeownership v. City of Bradbury, Los Angeles County Superior Court Case No. 22STCP01381.

Californians for Homeownership v. City of La Habra Heights, Los Angeles County Superior Court Case No. 22STCP01394.

Californians for Homeownership v. City of Laguna Hills, Orange County Superior Court Case No. 30-2022-01255365-CU-WM-CJC.

Californians for Homeownership v. City of Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles County Superior Court Case No. 22STCP01417.

Californians for Homeownership v. City of South Pasadena, Los Angeles County Superior Court Case No. 22STCP01388.

Californians for Homeownership v. City of Vernon, Los Angeles County Superior Court Case No. 22STCP01397.

Bernard P. Love