Almost two-thirds of Southern California’s cities and counties failed to meet a state housing plan deadline Saturday, Oct. 15, costing them a 2 ½-year extension needed to rezone land for future home construction.
Now the rezoning deadline for those jurisdictions reverts to last Saturday, as opposed to February 2025 for the cities and counties that did meet the deadline.
As a result, the remaining 124 governments have two hurdles to overcome to get into compliance with state housing laws and avoid a host of possible sanctions.
First, they must get state approval for a new “housing element” that lays out how local communities will meet state-mandated homebuilding goals by 2030. Then, they must rezone enough parcels to give developers the authority to build that new housing.
Governments without an approved housing plan and completed rezoning can lose access to state housing and transportation grants, have less control over future developments and face the risk of lawsuits and fines.
“This is moving into a new phase of the process,” said Matthew Gelfand, an attorney for Californians for Homeownership, a Realtor-backed nonprofit that has sued nine Southern California cities that failed to win state approval for their housing elements. “If you want to achieve housing element compliance, you now have to do both your housing element and rezoning at the same time.”
Under the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment, Southern California municipalities must revise the housing element of their general plans once every eight years to ensure adequate housing for low- and moderate-income residents as well as affluent households.
The housing plans, which can run into hundreds of pages, outline where and how new housing can be built, creating an inventory of sites where developers can build new homes. Once the housing element is adopted, governments must rezone land to ensure there’s enough land for the new affordable and market-rate housing.
State lawmakers voted in late 2021 to punish those missing a February cutoff for housing element approval, trimming the rezoning timeline from three years to one. Their goal was to induce more cities to get their plans done on time. But the plan backfired when 97% of Southern California’s local governments missed the February deadline anyway.
So, the Legislature restored the three-year rezoning timeline — but only for jurisdictions that got their housing elements approved by Oct. 15.
Now, 121 cities and the counties of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino “are doubly non-compliant,” according to the state Housing and Community Development Department.
“What it largely means is a couple things,” said David Zisser, the HCD deputy director leading a new Housing Accountability unit. “There are real consequences right now for jurisdictions that remain out of compliance, including ineligibility for a handful of funding programs at the state. That’s why there’s plenty of reason for jurisdictions to continue to work to get their housing elements into compliance, and HCD is here as a partner to help them with that.”
On the positive side, the 73 jurisdictions that won state approval represent 65% of the 1.3 million new housing units the state wants Southern California to build by 2030. They include some of the region’s biggest cities, such as Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Riverside, Fontana, Ontario, Moreno Valley and Irvine. And they include Los Angeles, Ventura and Imperial counties.
“We have the majority of the RHNA numbers in compliance, so that’s a good place to be,” said Kome Ajise, executive director of SCAG, which represents municipalities in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Imperial counties.
Still, the consequences of remaining out of compliance can be severe for the remaining 124 jurisdictions, which have been ordered to plan for 474,210 new homes by 2030.
“Obviously, there are concerns,” Ajise added. “We know that there will be potential impacts for the cities that are not in compliance, mostly around not having access to (state housing) funds. Which is ironic because these are the same funds they need to get the job done to update their housing elements.”
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The cities of Redondo Beach and Santa Monica recently felt the effects of missing last February’s housing element deadline, even though they both met Saturday’s deadline to get their housing plans approved.
Developers there are seeking approval for new housing in those cities under the so-called “builder’s remedy,” a rule giving developers more leeway under the state’s Housing Accountability Act. Under that rule, cities without an approved housing element often must approve projects that violate planning and zoning rules, like height limits, so long as they include low- or moderate-income housing.
The builder’s remedy still applies in Redondo Beach and Santa Monica because developers applied for approval while those cities still were out of compliance with the housing element law.
Some jurisdictions, like the county of San Bernardino and the cities of Garden Grove and Beverly Hills, say they either don’t need to rezone land or already completed the required rezoning.
But for other communities that still have rezoning work to do, missing Saturday’s deadline increases their exposure to sanctions.
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Costa Mesa submitted its plan for state approval twice, said city spokesperson Tony Dodero. Each time, “the state has required additional changes,” Dodero said in an email, adding that a third submittal should be ready soon.
Riverside County also has gone through two rounds of reviews and is working on its third submittal, said county spokesperson Brooke Federico.
The state housing department “has placed a heavier emphasis on housing production and housing-related programs during this … cycle,” Federico said in an email. “As a result, the state is obligating all counties and cities across California to ramp up programs and annual reporting related to all housing types, but especially affordable housing.”
Pasadena city leaders said they have adopted a host of revisions to ease government restrictions on development — such as removing development caps — and have taken steps to promote fair housing.
“We have been working really hard,” Assistant City Manager David Reyes said in a phone interview. “We certainly want to have a certified housing element.”
— SCNG staff writer Roxana Kopetman contributed to this report.