Yes, even cities have to follow housing laws

California Attorney General Rob Bonta last week filed a lawsuit against Anaheim claiming that the city’s refusal to approve Grandma’s House of Hope’s plan to house a dozen homeless women is a violation of state housing laws. Lawsuits against localities are far from ideal, but the state has a legitimate role in assuring that cities follow state law.

“Cities and counties cannot discriminate against housing designed for people with disabilities or who have recently experienced homelessness,” Bonta said in a statement. Anaheim requires a Conditional Use Permit for facilities that provide more than six units of supportive housing – a potentially discriminatory condition it doesn’t apply to other facilities.

Municipalities are notorious for caving in to pressure from local residents. In this case, residents in the nearby Anaheim Colony District opposed the plan out of vague concerns about public safety. The Planning Commission rejected the expansion – and the City Council unanimously upheld the commission’s decision.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, a public-interest law firm, noted on these pages in September that this is a “textbook case of the ‘Not in My Backyard,’ … whereby some residents oppose new but reasonable land-uses in their neighborhoods.” The foundation argues that Anaheim’s denial was a clear violation of property rights.

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Regarding land-use restrictions, PLF attorneys wrote that courts evaluate their constitutionality based on whether they reflect a genuine public purpose – or are a case where “the minority groups targeted are or have historically suffered at the whims of a majority’s impulses.” California is echoing that argument, by noting that opposition is “due to stigma against this population.”

An Anaheim spokesman told VoiceofOC the city “must also look at concentration and proximity, not just for those already living in a neighborhood but for those in need of healthy, recovery housing in a neighborhood setting.” That isn’t actually the proper role of city governments, which need to enforce zoning rules in an even-handed manner.

Just as local residents must abide by city zoning rules, cities must abide by state housing laws. We hope Anaheim and other cities finally get that message.