Council Pushes Back on Regional Housing Mandate

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By Daniel Langhorne

The Laguna Beach City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday opposing the Southern California Association of Government’s new method for allotting affordable housing to cities and counties, arguing a proposed mandate to add hundreds of residential units in town would compromise public safety.

State law requires City Councils and County Boards of Supervisors to plan for future housing needs by identifying sites with zoning needed to build high-density, workforce housing. SCAG assigns each city and county a Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation for dwelling units serving very low-income up to above moderate-income households.

In November, the majority of SCAG Regional Council members adopted a new methodology that shifted development away from Riverside and San Bernardino counties to predominately Orange County jurisdictions. All Orange County members of the Regional Council opposed the change, which increased Laguna Beach’s allotment to 390 dwelling units—a 600 percent increase from the initial staff recommendation.

Bob Whalen

“Adopting future policies to accommodate the target RHNA allocation could potentially be detrimental to the safety of Laguna Beach residents and its many visitors, while also undermining community character and any future vision that is not wholly housing-centric,” Mayor Bob Whalen wrote in the resolution.

Laguna Beach appears to be pursuing a novel argument that its very high wildfire risk warrants a reduction in the number of affordable housing units it’s required to zone for. With only three routes out of town, additional dwelling units would only add to the traffic congestion during an evacuation, city officials said.

The Newport Beach City Council will discuss drafting a similar resolution at a study session on Tuesday, Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill said.

In a prepared statement, SCAG said Wednesday the California Department of Housing and Community Development is still reviewing the new RHNA methodology, and things will move forward once state officials give their approval.

“We have been working on this for a long time, almost two years, and all of this is part of the process,” SCAG said. “At the end of the day, we want the final RHNA to address the housing crisis. As a six-county region with such diverse members, we have a very fine needle to thread.”

In a letter sent New Year’s Eve, The Association of California Cities – Orange County asked state housing officials to direct SCAG to reject the modified RHNA allocation methodology, arguing it sets “unrealistic goals” for several of its member cities.

“The ACC-OC stands strongly behind the concerns and objections raised by our member cities with respect to the RHNA methodology recently adopted by the Southern California Association of Governments,” association executive director Bruce E. Channing wrote in an email.

In August 2019, SCAG approved the release of its methodology for assigning RHNA requirements to cities and counties. Each tier of state-mandated affordable housing is based on the current area median income for a four-person household, which is $97,900 in Orange County.

This would have required Laguna Beach to zone for 17 units for very-low-income households, 11 dwelling units for low-income households, 11 of moderate-income households, and 16 dwelling units of above moderate-income households before October 2021, according to a staff report.

SCAG expects to publish the draft RHNA allocation for all cities and counties in its jurisdiction in February. At that time, Laguna Beach can formally appeal the number of dwelling units it’s being asked to plan for.

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