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Some city officials throughout California are not happy with the state Legislature dictating how to build their cities and now they are pushing back.

Over 40 cities in the state, including Fullerton, La Habra, Laguna Niguel and Yorba Linda have passed resolutions calling for greater local control on zoning and housing issues within their own borders.  

Earlier this month the city of Orange passed a similar resolution and the Newport Beach City Council at its Tuesday meeting also unanimously approved one.

The item was put forward by Councilwoman Diane Dixon who told the Voice of OC before the meeting that the city wants to be in control of its own destiny.

“Sacramento is passing laws in the dozens that are stripping cities from their local governance role,” Dixon said. “We know best how to preserve and protect our neighborhoods, and build the necessary housing that we need to build.”

The fight for municipal control has been spearheaded by Torrance City Councilman Mike Griffiths who created an organization last year called California Cities for Local Control. The group argues that city governments should be the decision makers on how their communities are built.

The organization is “seeking out allies for possible legal action against the state and/or to promote efforts for a ballot initiative to legislate the desired results,” according to its website.

The Governor’s Office has not responded to requests for comment from the Voice of OC.

The state has been putting pressure on cities to address California’s housing shortage and create more affordable housing.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in a state budget briefing last month announced his intention to create a new office aimed at monitoring council meetings to hold municipalities accountable for their state-required housing goals.

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

The Southern California Association of Governments — a state-assigned regional board of elected officials — was tasked to come up with zoning for 1.3 million homes across six counties, including Orange County, by October 2029.

Newport Beach officials and staff have to figure out where over 4,800 of those homes will go in their city — a task they have called infeasible for over a year, in part questioning how to reconcile housing for low-income people in a real estate area that is mostly marketed to the wealthy. 

Officials there also argue that because their city is on the coast, there’s barely any remaining land not regulated by county, state or federal agencies. 

The seaside town appealed the state requirement and so did 15 other cities in Orange County. The regional board denied all of the appeals.

“The city does not provide evidence that it cannot accommodate housing using other considerations such as underutilized land, opportunities for infill development, and increased residential densities to accommodate need,” reads the decision by the Southern California Association of Governments.

Newport Beach officials attempted to have some of their required housing numbers reallocated, arguing that Santa Ana has already approved more units than that city is mandated to zone for by the regional board.

That appeal was also denied.

The Southern California Association of Governments did partially approve two appeals – one for the city of Pico Rivera and one for the county of Riverside. Over 3,000 housing units were reallocated to every other jurisdiction in the region.

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 go 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 – two of which had to be affordable. However, 1,738 units were built in Newport with 95 of the units built for very low to low income levels during the last cycle.

The Southern California Association of Governments will hold a public hearing on the allocation of state mandated housing goals in the region on March 4 via Zoom. 

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

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