A battle over affordable housing targets is ramping up in Orange County, as cities move to officially oppose plans to significantly expand home construction goals over the next decade.
Laguna Beach and Costa Mesa pushed back last week with resolutions opposing the expansion by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), as Irvine and Newport Beach gear up for similar votes Tuesday night.
“We believe the methodology was unfair and OC cities’ concerns were not taken into account when the final numbers were proposed,” said Irvine mayor Christina Shea in a text Friday to Voice of OC reporters. “Our City is nearly built-out and for the State and SCAG to require us to provide an additional 22,000-plus units isn’t feasible or reasonable.”
Councilwoman Melissa Fox, however, said a resolution isn’t the best way to handle the problem.
“I don’t think it’s a helpful way to deal with this issue,” Fox said in an interview on Monday. “I don’t think a resolution will do anything other than show obstinacy.”
The new targets – set by a regional board of elected officials across six counties – pit cities’ interest in local control against statewide goals to increase housing production. California has been grappling with a housing shortage for years that has pushed up costs to the point where housing is no longer affordable for many households. Where the new housing units should be built – and who should decide – is at the core of the debate.
Laguna Beach registered its opposition last week with a unanimous City Council resolution opposing the draft plan requiring the city to zone for 390 affordable housing units, up from the current 55 units. The City Council did not publicly discuss the issue before voting.
Costa Mesa’s resolution last Thursday also protests the increase of their requirements, from 4,322 affordable units to 11,734. The vote passed 6-1, with Councilman Manuel Chavez dissenting.
“For me, as a person who’s 24 and a voice for young people in Orange County, we have to be serious about addressing the housing crisis,” Chavez said in a phone interview Monday. “I understand why my peers wanted a more transparent process, but having more affordable housing is important.”
Chavez was the only Costa Mesa City Council member to respond to a request for comment.
Now, one of OC’s largest cities – Irvine – is on track to follow in their footsteps. Its City Council members are scheduled to vote Tuesday night on a resolution declaring the housing expansion plan resulted from a process that ignored “months of local participation and poses an inequitable and unfair hardship on our City.”
Newport Beach is also scheduled to vote tonight on pushing back against the new goals, which would have the city zone for 4,832 affordable housing units instead of 2,751 units.
In August, state housing officials determined more than 1.3 million new homes must be built by October 2029 in the region of the Southern California Association of Governments, which covers Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, and Imperial counties. The association’s board is led by local elected officials representing those counties and their 191 cities.
In November, SCAG’s board adopted its draft plan for how to distribute those new homes between the cities – essentially, how many new houses each city must allow through zoning. The plan sets construction targets over the next eight years.
The draft plan decreases the share of new homes required in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, while increasing the share of new homes OC cities must zone for. It was universally opposed by Orange County representatives in the 43-19 vote by SCAG’s governing board.
With the new methodology, Orange County’s share of required zoning for new homes would grow from 8 percent to 13.6 percent of the total across the counties in the SCAG region.
The new plan was the second of two that were put forward at SCAG’s November meeting. One proposal went through a months-long review, but was scrapped in favor of a plan put forward at the meeting by Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey, which ultimately was adopted.
Now, Orange County cities are preparing to fight against the new plan.
While the resolutions adopted and proposed so far hold no legal power, they ask the state’s housing agency to step in and have SCAG re-open the housing goal plans.
Irvine’s resolution, which was proposed by Mayor Christina Shea and Councilman Michael Carroll, argues the city has constructed more affordable housing units than any other city in Orange County.
Irvine’s complaint about a lack of representation is echoed in the other cities’ resolutions, which say the new housing goals were not distributed between cities in “good faith.”
In pushing back on the draft mandates, Newport Beach officials cite the state’s coastal protection goals to slow down development growth.
“We don’t think the allocation of 4,800 plus units into a city where the [California] Coastal Commission, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and various other state agencies with either slow-growth or no-growth policies is proper methodology to use,” Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill told Voice of OC in an interview Monday.
Newport Beach officials sent a letter to the state housing department in December urging them to reject the draft regional housing needs assessment, claiming SCAG did not provide enough time for public review of its new plan.
The letter also calls on the state to require SCAG to reopen its review of the plan. The Association of California Cities – Orange County also sent a letter in December requesting the same.
Newport Beach City Council members plan to vote Tuesday on an “action plan » and resolution regarding housing needs.
The action plan recommends the city file an appeal and seek an amendment to state law to give “more flexibility or automatic approval of sites meeting certain objective standards” when determining where residential property can be built.
“We need to address right away how to comply with the 4,800 unit mandate in our housing element and that needs to be our primary focus,” O’Neill said.
The council, he said, would be happy to work with other cities in the county to push back against the new housing targets.
“Part of the challenge with working formally with other cities is that any reduction in our number would be an increase in someone else’s number. Our objective is not to push numbers into our neighboring cities,” O’Neill said.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC news intern. Contact him @firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC news intern. Contact him @email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.