Reflecting on the California cities with the least impressive housing performances in 2022, we can identify a few key archetypal patterns and behaviors: Beach towns known for their surf spots, equestrian cities, vineyards, and cities with swaths of unused “scenic” land. Come with us on a scenic (written) tour of California that details the specific situations of the cities that fall under these categories and the steps CalHDF has taken to enforce the state laws these cities have blatantly ignored.
Living in an area marked by abundant sunshine and beautiful beaches presents few challenges – unless, of course, you are trying to build or find housing. In 2022, the California Housing Defense Fundsaw many of California’s seaside cities attempt to violate State law and limit housing potential.
Huntington Beach, also known as California’s Surf City, is no stranger to CalHDF. CalHDF (then CaRLA) sued Huntington Beach in 2019 after the City denied the compliant 48-unit Ellis Avenue mixed-use condominium development. After nearly two years, CalHDF won the lawsuit, and Huntington Beach did not learn its lesson. In April, CalHDF sent Huntington Beach a letter regarding their Senate Bill 9 (SB 9) ordinance, which contained unlawful affordability requirements, restrictions on ADUs and JADUs, and established objective development standards that were distinctly subjective. In other words, the ordinance was a de facto ban on SB-9 developments.
Oceanside, a coastal beach city about 30 miles north, seems to follow in Huntington Beach’s footsteps. Last fall, the Oceanside Planning Commission voted to deny the 6-story 146-unit Breeze Luxury Apartments, a response to residents’ concerns about traffic, potential glare from solar panels, and opposition to the building’s architecture. Fortunately, after monitoring the project closely and threatening legal action, the Oceanside City Council recently voted to overturn the Planning Commission’s denial.
In Manhattan Beach, another coastal surf town, the City Council denied a 79-unit compliant housing development located at 401 Rosecrans Avenue and 3770 Highland Avenue after community members filed five appeals. The basis of the denial primarily included Council and resident concerns regarding building height and parking. During the Project’s August 16 public hearing, a council member stated that the City does not want rental units, claiming that residents who own their homes are more “stable and law-abiding.” Well, that is awfully ironic.
Although these coastal cities will do anything to prevent more housing development, fictitious traffic concerns and attempts to impose subjective development and design standards seem to be at the top of the list. Hopefully, these cities will learn that going to the beach is not an Olympic sport, and it is unlikely that new housing developments will generate enough traffic to lengthen the drive.
In 2022, CalHDF (then CaRLA) sued Rancho Palos Verdes, or what we like to call the “equestrian city,” after the City unlawfully denied a property owner’s ADU application upon deeming it incomplete. Although the application was entitled to ministerial approval, Rancho Palos Verdes stated that the ADU failed to match the architectural style of the primary residence and did not possess the required “privacy mitigation measures.” With no legal basis for the denial, it is evident that the City will do anything to prevent the creation of more homes. Instead of housing, Rancho Palos Verdes welcomes horses, which they allow on properties within their four equestrian overlay districts. So, if you want to move, know that Rancho Palos Verdes prioritizes mammals with hooves.
CalHDF also sent a letter to Rancho Palos Verdes in April regarding the City’s unlawful SB 9 ordinance, which imposes an affordability requirement on SB 9 developments. If the City is truly worried about affordability, maybe they should consider some multi-family affordable housing projects. After all, the cost of living in Rancho Palos Verdes is only 146% of the national average.
Burbank, another city in Southern California, was sued by YIMBY Law over its denial of a redevelopment project to turn a bowling alley site into housing. Although the 96-unit condominium project was compliant under Senate Bill 35, Burbank grounded the denial in concerns over traffic and equestrian activity. Just like Rancho Palos Verdes, Burbank prioritizes horses over humans. We understand horses are exceptional bowlers, but they can visit the other three bowling alleys in Burbank!
Finally, we will conclude our equestrian city chronicles with Woodside. Last year, Woodside, an exclusive enclave in the hills above Silicon Valley, passed an ordinance that would limit the number of units allowed under SB 9, cap the size of these units, and exclude development in high wildfire-risk areas. Town officials then identified a clause in SB 9 prohibiting development in areas established as habitats for protected species. So, officials declared that Woodside, in its entirety, is a mountain lion habitat, as mountain lions are a candidate for the California Endangered Species Act. Given this declaration, no lot within Woodside would be eligible for an SB 9 project. Despite this effort to bypass SB 9, Woodside decided to reverse the ban on SB 9 applications in February 2022, following pushback from California’s Attorney General. While the Town’s protected species habitat claim is contrary to state law, the situation confuses us for another reason – if Woodside is an equestrian city, why would they so adamantly protect a natural predator of horses?
If there is one thing we learned about Sonoma this year, it is that the City would rather produce wine than housing. In September, CalHDF sent a letter to Sonoma regarding their proposed ordinance amending the City’s General Property and Use Standards. Sonoma’s amendments were not compliant with Senate Bill 330 (SB 330), which prohibits local jurisdictions from enacting new laws that would reduce or limit new housing production or delay housing through administrative or other regulatory barriers. Sonoma’s ordinance applies standards to hillside housing developments, establishing a reduced height limit to replace the heights allowed in the underlying zone with a goal to protect and preserve views of and from the City’s hillside areas. The proposed ordinance also includes provisions for protecting Sonoma’s “scenic vistas,” stating that new development must preserve view corridors. According to Sonoma, a scenic vista is a public view that benefits the greater community.
Last time we checked, “scenic” is far from objective, measurable, or verifiable. Prohibiting or restricting development in areas that may be considered picturesque by specific individuals is unquestionably subjective. At CalHDF, we do not believe undeveloped land is “scenic.” If you ask us, housing is the ultimate view. We hope Sonoma will stop wine-ing and build some new homes!
Vacaville, also known as Cow City, recently upheld an appeal and denied the compliant 236-unit Southtown Apartments. So what are the specific adverse impacts to support the denial? Well, your guess is as good as ours. On November 15, the Vacaville City Council denied the project over traffic, parking, and evacuation concerns despite Staff’s extensive analysis and conclusion that community and Council sentiments do not support findings for denial under the Housing Accountability Act. In fact, during the public hearing, Staff told the Council that the “City does not have a choice but to approve his project.” Although CalHDF will work with the developer to pursue legal action, we cannot help but wonder how the City hopes to use the land. For onions? Or grazing?
Last but certainly not least, Silicon cities and counties. Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Venice Beach are all examples of Silicon cities, but here we’ll focus on Santa Clara County.
As you may know, CalHDF sued Santa Clara County in September to remedy the County’s illegal downzoning in the form of increased lot requirements for the newly created Upper San Juan Residential District (SJRD). In short, Santa Clara County’s downzoning ordinance aims to ensure the SJRD remains unaffordable and inaccessible by limiting development to single-family homes on huge lots. The County’s ordinance violates SB 330, inhibits new development, and will result in one to two homes per acre of land. Litigation is in progress, but the jury is out on one thing: proximity to Stanford University does not make you more intelligent.
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