La Cañada Flintridge Becomes the Latest to See State Crack Down on Housing

AG Rob Bonta

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta, along with the California Department of Housing and Community Development, announced their intention to intervene in the case of California Housing Defense Fund v. City of La Cañada Flintridge to uphold California’s housing laws, and reverse the City of La Cañada Flintridge’s denial of a mixed-use project that would create 80 mixed-income residential dwelling units, 14 hotel units, and 7,791 square feet of office space.

The city of La Cañada Flintridge is an affluent community with 20,000 residents in Los Angeles County, and has thus far refused to comply with California’s housing laws and has denied the approval of the 80-unit, mixed-use, mixed-income housing project.

“Since California strengthened its housing laws, cities have attempted, unsuccessfully, to skirt these rules. La Cañada Flintridge is another community making excuses rather than building their fair share of housing,” Governor Newsom said on Tuesday.  “La Cañada Flintridge will learn, as other communities have, that the status quo is no longer acceptable, and ultimately, they will be held accountable.”

The action marks yet another community that is facing pressure from the state.  Of particular note in this case, however, is the fact that the city in question is quite small (20,000 residents) and also quite affluent.

“Local governments must do their part to build housing and address our state’s housing crisis,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “The City of La Cañada Flintridge is legally required to process this affordable housing project under California’s builder’s remedy because they did not adopt a compliant housing element on time.”

The attorney general continued, “Far too many Californians struggle for access affordable housing, and cities have a duty to facilitate, not block, affordable housing to alleviate our housing crisis.”

In addition, the state is also seeking a declaratory judgment that the city did not have a compliant housing plan in place when they denied approval of this housing project.

“The facts and the law are clear. La Cañada Flintridge failed to adopt a substantially compliant housing element, and then unlawfully blocked mixed-income housing proposed under the builder’s remedy,” said HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez. “Cities and counties cannot pick and choose the rules that apply to them. When communities defy their obligation to promote housing production at all income levels, HCD will continue to take decisive action and hold them accountable to state housing law.”

In its filings, the state argues that the city’s denial of the mixed-income housing project violates both Housing Element Law and the HAA and shows flagrant disregard of the state’s goals of addressing California’s housing crisis, and asks the court to grant the state intervention in the case to enforce California’s housing laws.

In a column Tuesday in the San Francisco Chronicle, Emily Hoeven notes, “The request, subject to court approval, throws significant legal weight behind a largely untested provision of California law that says developers can bypass local zoning and design restrictions for projects with affordable units in jurisdictions without state-approved housing plans.”

“It’s a move likely to reverberate across,” she writes, noting that one third of the jurisdictions in the state do not have state approved housing elements.

She notes that this should serve as a warning to San Francisco.

“Just like San Francisco, La Cañada Flintridge tried to play games with the state on housing,” she explained.

This is yet another action that should put cities like Davis on notice.  While Davis’ city and city council have taken proactive steps to meet the state’s requirements for housing, it has been repeatedly hamstrung by its own growth control laws, not to mention an unwillingness on the part of residents to accept infill.

Davis remains in builder’s remedy status until its Housing Element is approved.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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