Costa Mesa and Dana Point City Council moved forward with adopting updated housing plans for roughly the next eight years this week amid pressure from the state to increase housing stock to address California’s home shortage.

The adoption of these plans comes as the housing crisis and state mandated housing goals have pitted local officials against state officials in battle over who should get to determine the future of what cities will look like in terms of home building over roughly the next decade.

City officials across Orange County have fought back against the state for the last couple years over their housing mandates and some officials have called for greater local control on zoning and housing issues – but the efforts haven’t changed the over 180,00 homes OC cities have to zone for.

Meanwhile, housing advocates have argued that for too long in Orange County there has been an overproduction of high income homes and underproduction of affordable housing, which they say has fueled the homelessness crisis.

The Costa Mesa City Council at their Tuesday meeting voted 6-1 to adopt their housing plan update, dubbed the housing element, that would have the city zone for 11,760 new homes in the city between 2021- 2029.

Of those homes, 2,919 units have to be for very low income families while 1,794 will have to be for low income families.

Councilman Don Harper voted against the plan and questioned the impacts it could have on the city and its economy.

“Our system of government was designed to have local authority and local jurisdictions for a reason so those in a local community can represent and design what they want for their community,” he said. “I don’t think Sacramento is doing things in our best interest always and we have to recognize that.”

Mayor John Stephens acknowledged the state’s housing crisis.

“Are we going to build 11,760 units in the next eight years in the city of Costa Mesa? Of course not,” he said. “We don’t have a supply of affordable housing for the citizens that we have in Costa Mesa and that’s what we’re trying to adjust.” 

Cynthia McDonald, a resident, called on the city council to adopt an inclusionary housing ordinance, which mandates developers must set a certain number of homes in a housing project as low income.

“You have stagnated in the adoption of an inclusionary housing ordinance,” she said Tuesday. “You won’t be able to control the amount of affordable housing a developer provides unless you do adopt one which means until you do, you will get very little or nothing and that is what has happened here for many years. Stop sitting on your hands.”

Stephens said they’re working on such an inclusionary housing policy.

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Last year, cities across Orange County filed their draft housing plan updates to state officials with a deadline to submit those drafts back in October. 

Cities have until the end of next week to officially adopt the new plans.

The Dana Point City Council unanimously voted to adopt their housing plan at Tuesday’s meeting.

Officials there have been tasked with figuring out where 530 new homes would go – 147 of which have to be for very low families and 84 for low income families.

The Yorba Linda City Council decided to continue their Tuesday public hearing on their housing plan to a special meeting on Feb. 9 as staff works to address issues raised by state officials on their plan.

Yorba Linda has to zone for 2,415 homes – 765 of which have to be for very low income families and 451 for low income families.

So far 12 cities have adopted updated housing plans including Garden Grove, Brea, San Clemente, and Mission Viejo, according to an email from Alicia Murillo, a spokesperson for the state’s department of Housing and Community Development.

Buena Park council members approved the updated plans last week after being assigned to zone for 8,919 homes – of which 2,119 homes have to be for very low income families and 1,343 homes for low income families.

While cities like Mission Viejo have adopted a plan, it does not necessarily mean their plan is finalized at the state level and could be subject to further revisions by the state.

Even after adoption, the state can still have cities go back and tweak their plans to meet their requirements before they certify the plans. 

“Jurisdictions commonly adopt non-compliant housing elements and submit them for review. When an adopted housing element is found out of compliance, [the state Housing and Community Development department] notifies the jurisdiction of any additional revisions that are needed. The jurisdiction must revise according to HCD comments and re-adopt in order to obtain compliance,” Murillo said.

According to the state’s housing element compliance report, no city in Orange County  – whether they submitted a draft or adopted plan – currently has a compliant plan.

Murillo also confirmed in her email Thursday that no city in OC has a compliant plan.

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The regional battle over the housing mandate began after the state assigned the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) — made up of city council members across the region — to come up with zoning for 1.3 million homes across six counties, including OC, by 2029.

Orange County ended up with over 180,000 homes — with more than 75,000 of those having to be very low income to low income homes. Each city in OC was assigned a share of those homes.

Officials in roughly half of the county’s cities ended up filing appeals with the board to try and bring the number of homes they have to zone for down – but SCAG denied all the appeals from Orange County cities.

Costa Mesa was one of the cities that tried to appeal their count with the regional board – citing concerns over the methodology, and also arguing they have limited land available for the development of homes.

The state, adamant on increasing its housing stock, has upped enforcement and formed the housing accountability unit to make sure cities stick to their housing plans.

Jennifer Le, Costa Mesa’s Director of Economic and Development Services, said at Tuesday’s meeting to expect additional state oversight, noting the new accountability unit.

“Certainly more than we’ve seen in the past,” she said.

Le also said the consequences for not having a compliant housing element could result in loss of state grant money, loss of local control over development as well as legal action.

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

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