The state of California has a list and it’s checking it twice. Cities that don’t meet the state’s new housing law, such as Huntington Beach, could be in for a legal ride.
The state has sued the Orange County coastal city for refusing to meet regional housing needs and standing in the way of affordable housing. Westlake Village officials are trying to stay out of the crosshairs by making sure the housing requirement for their city is being met.
State law requires cities to plan for the construction of a certain amount of new homes each year in the effort to alleviate housing shortages, and the Westlake Village plan for new homes is falling short, according to a recent government list naming the cities that have failed to comply.
Legislative analysts say the state needs to construct about 180,000 units of housing every year, but the reality is only about 80,000 homes are being built. For a city to remain in compliance they must remove the constraints and barriers to development that might prevent the homes from being built. The goal in Westlake Village is about 95 new homes as it tries to make up for a previous shortcoming.
Russ Heimerich is the deputy secretary of communications for the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, a state consumer watchdog agency.
Heimerich said in order to satisfy the requirement, a city’s general plan, which is a blueprint for its future, must realistically address the need for more housing in that jurisdiction. The general plan includes a so-called housing element, a description of how many homes are needed and how they can be built.
“They don’t just say they’re going to build X number of units of housing. They also have to show us where that housing is going to be zoned, what sort of housing it will be, that sort of thing,” Heimerich said. “They need to provide us with more information than (a promise).”
But just because a city’s general plan doesn’t meet its housing element requirement doesn’t automatically mean it will draw the state’s ire.
Scott Wolfe, planning director for Westlake Village, has been working with state officials to resolve the issue in his city.
“We adopted our housing element and sent it to the state,” Wolfe said. “They said they weren’t sure about it because a lot of the housing we were (relying on to satisfy the requirements) is coming from a plan that we did not have adopted at the time. They told us to come back when we did.”
North Business Park
Wolfe is referring to the city’s North Business Park Specific Plan, a decade-old quest to repurpose 200 acres of commercial and industrial land in the City of Westlake Village that could clear a path for as many as 1,000 new apartments and condos.
The zone lies north of the 101 Freeway and west of Lindero Canyon Road.
It is occupied by office buildings and industrial parks. Under the plan, the area would be rezoned for commercial, retail and residential uses.
Scott said the city is preparing to release the plan’s environmental impact report and open up the proposal to public comment. Barring any major complications, the North Business Park Plan should come to a hearing by this summer.
The 1,000 new multi-family residences would satisfy the city’s housing obligation for years to come, Wolfe said.
“In theory we’re on what I like to refer to as the state’s ‘naughty list.’ In reality they know where we’re at, we know where we’re at,” Wolfe said. “We’re not in the situation that Huntington Beach is right now, where the state is coming down and suing them because they’re actively defying the state’s mandate.”
The Huntington Beach lawsuit, the first of its kind, could set a precedent for future action against cities that fail to add housing.
In 2015, the Department of Housing and Community Development found Huntington Beach’s housing plan didn’t comply with the state law requiring a city to “accommodate a fair share of regional housing needs and provide zoning that encourages development of housing that is affordable to the city’s residents across all income levels,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.
The city offered a reply stating the municipality has been complying with all applicable state housing and zoning laws but progress has been hindered by court appeals filed by outside parties.
Newsom said his administration intends to pursue an aggressive housing policy. He has even hinted at withholding certain state funding, possibly even gas tax revenue, from cities that don’t meet their housing needs goal.