A group sponsored by the California Association of Realtors (CAR) has sued three Southern California cities for failing to comply with the state’s housing requirements — a move that’s likely to only add to the already thick tension between numerous California cities and the state over housing policy.
The new lawsuits, filed earlier this month in county court, take aim at Claremont, in eastern L.A. County; La Mirada, in southeast L.A. County; and Fullerton, in northern Orange County.
Those three cities “were selected because, in our assessment, they are unlikely to adopt valid housing elements within the next six to 12 months without being forced to do so through litigation,” Matthew Gelfand, an attorney for the plaintiff, Californians for Homeownership, said in a statement.
Otto Catrina, the president of CAR, added that the lawsuits “send a message to cities” that they have an obligation “to plan for the housing growth needed to support California’s growing population.”
In Southern California, cities’ updated housing element plans were due last October, and numerous cities have yet to finalize their plans.
Claremont responded to the suit by asserting that it is, in fact, “committed to complying” with the law and is currently working on the update. In a statement, Brad Johnson, the city’s community development director, also blamed the delay on a consultant logjam.
“Like most cities in the San Gabriel Valley, the City of Claremont is using special housing consultants to assist in the implementation of its Housing Element update,” he said. “For a variety of reasons, these consultants are experiencing very high demand.”
Claremont’s statement also pointed to a state agency statistic on the problem: Out of 539 California jurisdictions, 201 — or 37 percent — were out of compliance with state housing element law as of mid-September.
The statement did not specify whether Claremont planned to contest the suit.
Representatives for La Mirada and Fullerton did not respond to requests for comment.
Contrary to Catrina’s assertion, California’s population is not actually “growing” — in fact it has decreased for two straight years, and is likely to remain mostly flat for decades — but the Golden State is nevertheless mired in a housing crisis that was caused in large part by anti-density zoning laws that dictated local and state policy for decades.
In recent years the state has very publicly reversed course, including with a package of pro-density bills signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this week, but the statewide legislation so far has barely made a dent. One recent estimate pegged the state’s housing inventory shortage at nearly 1 million units, easily the highest in the country, while new development under SB 9, a major zoning law reform that went into effect in January, appears to be minimal.
Cities around the state, meanwhile, have aggressively challenged SB 9, often by passing their own creative, highly onerous development requirements that effectively undercut the state law. The local measures have in turn led to conflict with the attorney general’s office, and prompted bigger questions about the new law’s long term viability.
“These are going to be ongoing battles,” Eric Sussman, a real estate professor at UCLA, said earlier this year. “This is front and center of what matters to people in the state.”
The new lawsuits from Californians for Homeownership come six months after the group filed an initial round of legal complaints against six SoCal cities that were out of compliance. Three of those cities – Bradbury, Laguna Hills and South Pasadena – have recently settled, according to the industry nonprofit, with agreements to accept noncompliance penalties, reimburse legal fees and make timely changes to their plans. South Pasadena, for example, had been counting land parcels with little chance of ever being developed toward its housing quota, but agreed to remove those parcels.
Earlier this year, Californians for Homeownership also sued La Habra Heights, Manhattan Beach and Vernon.
The post Realtor-affiliated group sues cities over housing plans appeared first on The Real Deal Los Angeles.
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