A new Republican Huntington Beach City Council majority has renewed debates about Sacramento’s housing mandates while their lawsuit against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom plays out in court. 

And while Newsom and Surf City sue each other over state housing laws, more than half of Orange County cities don’t have state-approved housing plans. 

That means once-obscure laws, like Builder’s Remedy, could come into play – allowing developers to build new developments without city approval, as long as there’s 20% of affordable housing in the project. 

[Read: Will Builder’s Remedy Create Housing Without Local Approval in Orange County?]

As Huntington Beach officials are taking a stand against Sacramento, officials in other cities are reluctantly complying with California law by trying to zone for hundreds or thousands of new homes and get their housing plans certified by the state.

They’re doing so as California officials are upping the pressure on local city officials up and down the Golden State to zone for 2.5 million new homes by the turn of the decade in an effort to address a statewide housing shortage.

OC Cities Without Certified Housing Plans

In Orange County, city officials have to adopt housing plans approved by the state that, taken altogether, will have local cities zone for over 180,000 new homes – and 75,000 of them have to be designated for very low and low income families.

As of last Monday, 19 cities in Orange County as well as the County itself did not have an approved housing plan in compliance with state requirements, according to a state database.

The 19 cities are Anaheim, Buena Park, Huntington Beach, Garden Grove, Aliso Viejo, Fullerton, Costa Mesa, Mission Viejo, Seal Beach, Placentia, Laguna Niguel, Orange, Westminster, La Habra, Laguna Woods, La Palma, Laguna Hills, Los Alamitos and Villa Park.

Costa Mesa Mayor John Stephens said in a Thursday phone interview that he is confident the state will approve their latest submission of the plan.

“There’s no question that Costa Mesa does need affordable housing,” he said. “The price of housing for the city and the lack of affordability has become a major problem. We have to provide more units to address that.”

At the same time, he believes that the housing goals the city has been tasked with are unrealistic.

His city has been tasked with zoning for 11,760 new homes – of which over 4,700 homes have to be for very low and low income families.

In other cities like Fullerton, it may take longer to get state certification on their draft housing plans.

In a Thursday phone interview, Mayor Fred Jung said while they’re actively working on their housing plan, it likely won’t be certified till the fourth quarter of the year or the beginning of next year.

“Being a city that’s nearly 150 years old and mostly built out, trying to find the balance between resources that are finite and the absolute understandable need for housing in our state has been very, very consuming to not only our staff but to our council as well,” Jung said.

Fullerton is tasked with zoning for 13,209 new homes – over 5,100 of which have to be for very low and low income families.

Jung said the housing plans are important in OC and elsewhere in the state because affordable housing developments weren’t getting built.

Cesar Covarrubias, executive director of the Kennedy Commission, said the housing plans are important because they offer cities local control in planning where development can go in their communities.

“The housing elements start off as a place for you to be able to understand what are the housing needs in the community, which housing needs are being met, which are not and what are the policies and programs that are guiding development,” he said in a phone interview last Tuesday.

His organization has for years tracked the progress of the state mandated housing plans and goals in Orange County. 

But some local elected officials like Buena Park Mayor Art Brown feel like Sacramento is stripping them of local control and the ability to dictate the future of their cities.

“Every time you turn around, they’ve got some new law that says we have to do something,” he said in a Thursday phone interview.

Yet at the same time, Brown said the housing plans are important because housing is needed and while cities can zone for new homes, developers are the ones that have to get it built.

Buena Park has been tasked with zoning for 8,919 new homes – over 3,400 of which have to be affordable.

Huntington Beach Reignites the Housing Law Debate

A new city council majority in Surf City promised voters on the campaign trail to take up a battle their predecessors wouldn’t – fighting state officials in court over a mandated goal to bring over 13,000 new homes to Huntington Beach.

This month, a majority of Huntington Beach started following through with that promise.

Even though state officials including Gov. Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta have routinely warned them they’d lose that battle in court.

[Read: California’s Battle With Huntington Beach Over Housing Goals Heads To Court]

Last week at their city council meeting, Surf City majority members refused to adopt their housing element – the state required housing plan – intended to map out where 13,368 homes would go and instead unanimously decided to continue the conversation at a later date.

At the March 21 public meeting, Councilmember Pat Burns compared the pressure from Sacramento to increase housing stock to Nazi Germany’s invasion of his mom’s hometown in France.

“It’s state overreach and they send us a threatening letter telling us the repercussions of what’s going to happen to us in this city. It’s basic bullying,” Burns said. “It’s gross and I don’t agree with it.”

The same day, a federal judge denied the city’s request for an injunction to stop the state government from enforcing any penalties or fines on the city until the issue was settled in court.

[Read: Federal Judge Denies Huntington Beach’s Requested Injunction Against State Housing Law]

Need For New Homes vs Pushback on Housing Goals

Covarrubias of the Kennedy Commission said this cycle of housing plans has a larger number than the last cycle between 2014 to 2021.

“We were in the middle of recession, the numbers were fairly low because there was not an expectation of housing production happening. There was also an assumption that there was quite a bit of development in the pipelines of each city,” he said.

In the previous housing plan cycle, city officials in OC had to adopt plans that together would have them zone for almost 38,000 homes – that’s about five times lower than the current 180,000 homes OC is tasked with.

While many cities met or exceeded their goals for market and above market housing, only about 39% of the 14,980 housing units for very low and low income were produced, according to the Kennedy Commission.

To see if your city met their housing goals in the last cycle, click here to access the Kennedy Commission’s progress reports.

Housing advocates have routinely criticized the lack of affordable housing in Orange County for fueling the homelessness crisis.

This time around, many cities pushed back against their state mandated housing goals, arguing that the goals were impossible to meet in a county already built out.

Officials in roughly half of the county’s cities filed appeals to lower their mandated housing numbers and some criticized the methodology used to divide the number of homes across cities in the Southern California region.

But the Southern California Association of Governments, a regional board made up of elected officials from the region tasked with divvying up the goals amongst the cities, denied all their appeals.

Costa Mesa was one of those cities.

“We didn’t think that there was any point in further litigation or appeals. All those had been – from our perspective – exhausted,” Mayor Stephens said.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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