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Newport Beach and Garden Grove residents could see thousands of new housing units pop up in their cities over the next decade, mandated by California officials hoping to curb a statewide shortage.

Now comes the hard part for these and many other cities in the region: Figuring out just where exactly all of the additional housing will go. 

Garden Grove and Newport Beach officials this week will hold either a special forum or public discussion on how to address this question, even as they’re in the process of trying to overturn the state’s requirements.  

Multiple cities in the county, including Garden Grove and Newport Beach, have filed appeals to bring down the number of homes they have been asked to zone for in their housing plans.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom in a state budget briefing last week announced his intention to create a new office aimed at holding municipalities accountable for their state-required housing goals. 

“We want to go after what we believe was neglect in terms of housing,” said Newsom in his remarks on Jan. 8. 

“This is to monitor city council meetings; this is to monitor board of supervisors’ meetings; planning commission meetings …  to be proactive in terms of holding local governments accountable to increasing housing production,” he added.

Newport Beach officials on Wednesday will attempt to explain to residents how they’ll tackle where to put the required 4,800 units — and whether the additional housing will be located near certain neighborhoods — at a special community forum set to take place over Zoom

The public will hear from the chair of the city’s special housing committee, Larry Tucker, and Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis. 

Garden Grove City Council members on Tuesday will hold a similar discussion on how best to strategize planning for the nearly 20,000 units required of them.

The state requires much of those units in both cities to be affordable to people of low to moderate income.

Newport Beach officials called that task infeasible in the past, in part questioning how to reconcile housing for low-income people in a real estate area that’s mostly marketed to the wealthy. 

Officials there also argue that because their city’s a coastal one, there’s barely any remaining land not regulated by county, state or federal agencies.

Tucker’s committee over the past year has been mulling how to meet the state mandate, according to the city, with committee members specifically focused on the airport area, Newport Center, West Newport Mesa, and other select locations.

Officials in a statement noticing the Wednesday forum say matters will be complicated with the affordable housing requirement, figuring out how to balance so much of it “with the high value of real estate in Newport Beach.” 

Once suitable sites are determined by the committee, officials say they’ll seek public input as to whether they’re acceptable. Several public forums have been held on the issue thus far, officials say. 

The city’s housing committee, they add, is in the final stages of its analysis and determination of how to incentivize the development of the required affordable housing.

Garden Grove officials have already identified where 6,400 of the close to 20,000 required housing units will go through the city’s cornerstone urban planning document, the General Plan. 

“The challenge lies in developing a plan that includes strategies to account for the gap of” the other “12,722 housing units,” staff say in a report for Tuesday’s meeting. 

One way, set to be discussed by council members on Tuesday, would be to identify land use alternatives in the city. 

Garden Grove has put out two community surveys on the issue, and the city’s community outreach efforts are ongoing, staff say.

The mandates on both cities were formulated by a state-assigned regional board of elected officials — the Southern California Association of Governments — to come up with zoning for 1.3 million homes across six counties, including Orange County, by October 2029.

So where should the housing be zoned? Irvine, Newport Beach, Garden Grove and Yorba Linda point to Santa Ana.

Santa Ana has 10,000 new units city officials approved or have under review while only being required to zone for a little over 3,000 units, according to a letter sent from Newport Beach last October to the Southern California Association of Governments.

“SCAG should be taking into consideration cities that have approved units that are above their own allocation,” Newport Beach Councilman Will O’Neill told the Voice of OC. “The goal is not to add a single additional unit into Santa Ana that they have not already approved.”

A report by the California State Auditor criticized the state’s approach to developing affordable housing and said the process of allocating where the homes will be shared is flawed, resulting in some cities not zoning their fair share, citing Newport Beach as an example.

In the last housing cycle spanning the previous decade, Newport was only mandated to build five units altogether – two of which had to be affordable. 

However, 1,738 units were permitted in Newport with 95 of the units built for very low to low income levels during the last cycle, according to an email from city staff sent to the Voice of OC early last year.

“Newport Beach has gotten knocked around a little bit on this claim that we have not built very many units, including affordable housing units,” O’Neill added. “The only problem with that is it’s not true.”

Garden Grove and Newport Beach are both in the process of appealing Southern California Association of Governments’ requirements, and hearings are set for both cities on Jan. 15.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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