Affordable Housing Fight Erupts, as Calif. Takes on HB

Perhaps it had to come to this. After thumbing its nose at State requirements for affordable housing, the State is now suing HB.

The issue revolves around a complicated process of attributing affordable housing requirements on cities (known as the Regional Housing Needs Allocation or RHNA, referred to as “Ree-Na”). The units don’t actually have to be built, but cities must have zoning in place to allow for them.

Ironically, in 2013, HB was one of the first cities to file an acceptable affordable housing plan with the state for the years 2013-2021.  The city planned to build most of its affordable units within the higher densities planned for the Beach/Edinger Corridor.

That all changed in 2015, when residents demanded that the City Council scale back any further high-density development in the Beach/Edinger Corridor. In 2016, the city looked at alternative sites for the 410 low-income units it was on the hook to build, but that plan was also shot down by the public. The city has done nothing since to address the issue.

A similar to lawsuit to the state’s action has been pending in court. That earlier case was brought by the Kennedy Commission, an advocacy group for affordable housing. HB won a partial victory in a state appeals court in the Kennedy case. As a result, the city’s current position is that it does not have to comply with affordable housing requirements based on its status as a charter city. Parts of the Kennedy suit are still pending.

Meanwhile, the California Globe website reminds us that Gov. Newsome’s own home county, Marin, was able to get an exemption from affordable housing requirements. The issues in Marin are the same as in HB: residents are concerned about overly dense developments.

The stakes are pretty high in this fight. Without an acceptable housing plan, the City risks losing some state funding, and control over developments and the issuance of building permits. In another case involving the Bay Area city of Pleasanton, where voters capped the amount of housing allowed, the case ended with Pleasanton getting rid of its cap, zoning for more homes and owing about $4 million in attorney’s fees, according to the L.A. Times.

At the February 5, 2018  HB City Council meeting, the city attorney confirmed that the Council had not only unanimously approved defending itself against the state’s suit, it also approved a legal action against the state for a law (SB 166) mandating immediate compliance with affordable housing requirements. That action followed a separate suit in January 2019 by HB against the state regarding another housing law, SB 35.

Under SB 35, a development project can bypass environmental impact reports, parking requirements, city council votes and court challenges as long as developers make 10% of a project’s units affordable.

SB 35 has some teeth. In September 2018, in the first case of its kind, the city of Cupertino was forced to approve a proposal to build an office park and more than 2,400 homes on a shopping mall property.

Hang on for more fireworks as HB does battle on the affordable housing front.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s