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Cities in Orange County must decide where they’re going to put over 180,000 new homes.

Over 75,000 of the units have to be very low income to low income homes.

This is a task local officials in the county have been fighting for over a year now. Many have tried to bring those numbers down but the state isn’t budging.

The state assigned the Southern California Association of Governments — a regional board of elected officials — to come up with zoning for 1.3 million homes across six counties, including more than 180,000 in Orange County by Oct. 2029.

The regional board is set to hold a public hearing and finalize the allocation of state mandated housing goals dispersed to the various cities in the region on Thursday March 4 via Zoom at 12:30 p.m.

The public may access the meeting through this Zoom link at the scheduled time.

Many Orange County cities have been pushing back for more than a year now on those goals that would have some cities in the county zone for thousands of new homes — calling it an infeasible task. 

Others will have to zone for hundreds of units and some cities like Irvine and Garden Grove have to find a place to put tens of thousands of new homes as part of a Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) mandated by the state.

“The availability of housing is of vital statewide importance, and the early attainment of decent housing and a suitable living environment for every Californian, including farmworkers, is a priority of the highest order,” reads state law.

Gov. Gavin Newsom believes that there has been neglect when it comes to housing and the state is forcing cities to address that by putting pressure on them to build more affordable homes.

“We are happy to be close to the finish line for the largest region in California,” reads an email from Veronica Harms, deputy secretary of external affairs for California’s Business, Consumer Services & Housing Agency 

“Increasing the availability of affordable homes, ending homelessness, and meeting other housing goals continues to be a priority for the State of California.”

OC Officials Push Back on Housing

Sixteen cities in the county filed appeals with the regional board to try to bring down the number of homes they have to zone for by the 2029 deadline. 

These include: Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Palma, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Los Alamitos, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, Rancho Santa Margarita, Tustin, Westminster, and Yorba Linda.

The regional board denied all of the appeals. They did however partially approve two appeals – one for the city of Pico Rivera and one for the county of Riverside meaning over 3,000 units will be redistributed to all the cities in the region.

Come Thursday those numbers could be finalized.

Uproar from city officials started when the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) approved a draft plan in 2019 to distribute the homes across the region. 

The board argues the draft plan was approved by state officials and that it fairly distributes new homes in a way where OC’s requirements are still less than its share of the region’s population.

The methodology on how to distribute the homes was put forward by then Mayor Rusty Bailey with support from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. 

Cities in Orange County have publicly criticized Bailey’s methodology as unfair, unvetted and failing to take into account the County’s concerns and input, with some city officials accusing Riverside and Los Angeles County for conspiring to “thwart” the process.

Newport Beach Councilwoman Diane Dixon who sits on the regional board said there is a resolution to work with the state legislature to have a smoother process at last week’s city council meeting.

“Many people said this current RHNA process was not democratic and was against every what every city’s local government principles and therefore people want to have a better relationship working with the state going forward,” Dixon said.

The Fight for Greater Local Control

There is a new battle brewing between cities and the state over who should have the final say on how communities in California are built.

City councilmembers all over California are calling for greater control on zoning and housing issues within their own borders in response to various state bills that officials say usurps local governence. 

Read: Newport Beach Joins Other Cities in Battle With State for Greater Local Control on Land Use

Local officials in Yorba Linda are also pushing back against a state proposed housing density law that would require cities to approve urban lot splits as well as developments with two residential units in single family residential zones.

The proposed law is intended to increase access to affordable housing but some officials see it as another by the state to undermine local control.

“Asides from the gross disregard for local control, this bill puts the lives of Yorba Linda residents in danger,” reads a letter from Mayor Peggy Huang to Toni Atkins, one of the Senators who introduced the bill.

Huang argues that because many residents in her city live in fire hazard zones the increased density will make it harder to evacuate homes in the event of wildfire.

Yorba Linda council members will vote on a resolution opposing the bill at their meeting today, March 2nd, at 6:30 p.m.

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

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