Court Orders La Cañada Flintridge to Follow State Housing Law and Process Affordable Housing Project Application

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – A court ruled on Monday that the City of La Cañada Flintridge violated the Housing Accountability Act (HAA) when it refused to process a developer’s application under California’s “Builder’s Remedy.”

Under the HAA, “a municipality may not ‘disapprove’ a qualifying affordable housing project on the grounds it does not comply with the municipality’s zoning and general plan if the developer submitted either a statutorily defined ‘preliminary application’ or a ‘complete development application’ while the city’s housing element was not in substantial compliance with state law.”

The court noted, “This statutory provision, colloquially known as the: ‘Builder’s Remedy,’ incentivizes compliance with the Housing Element Law by temporarily suspending the power of non-compliant municipalities to enforce their zoning rules against qualifying affordable housing projects.”

The court ordered the city to reverse its denial of the project and process the application under the HAA.

“La Cañada Flintridge is the latest community that has failed in their effort to override state housing laws,” Governor Newsom said in a statement on Tuesday. “Today’s favorable ruling should serve as a warning to other NIMBY jurisdictions that the state will hold every community accountable in planning for their fair share of housing.”

“We are pleased that the court agrees with us that La Cañada Flintridge must follow state housing laws to facilitate affordable housing and alleviate our housing crisis,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “The California Department of Justice is committed to enforcing state laws that increase housing supply and affordability.”

The city adopted its third revised housing element on February 21, 2023, but HCD (Housing and Community Development) determined at that time that it “had not completed the rezoning required by the Housing Element Law.”

Therefore, on April 24, 2023, HCD found, although the February 2023 housing element addressed the previously identified deficiencies in the October 2022 Housing Element, and met “most of the statutory requirements of State Housing Law,” the city was “not in substantial compliance with the Housing Element Law because the City adopted the February 2023 housing element more than one year past the statutory due date” and it “had not completed its statutorily required rezoning.”

In a letter that same day, HCD also opined that “a local jurisdiction cannot ‘backdate’ compliance to the date of adoption of a housing element.”

However, the city determined the project could not rely on the Builder’s Remedy and the city council affirmed that decision.

HCD disagreed, sending a letter to the city on June 8 summarizing the violations: “The City cannot ‘backdate’ its housing element compliance date to an earlier date so as to avoid approving a Builder’s Remedy application.”  Therefore, it concluded, “the Builder’s Remedy applies, and the City’s denial of the Project application based on inconsistency with zoning and land use designation is a violation of the HAA.”

The court concluded that “the city did not have a compliant housing element in place when the project was proposed” and that “Housing Element Law does not allow cities to certify their own housing element as compliant with the law.”

So, “The City’s “self-certification” therefore did not allow it to disapprove the development application.”

Further, the court clarified that cities must promptly provide housing project applicants with an “exhaustive list” of any information that is missing from their applications and addressed how the Housing Accountability Act intersects with a local agency’s environmental review obligations under the California Environmental Quality Act.

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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