Neighborhood leaders gathered in Long Beach in the spring of 2017 to discuss a City Hall plan to address the city’s housing shortage. What they learned sparked a revolt.
To increase the housing supply and stem skyrocketing residential costs, planners proposed multi-story apartment buildings line major streets and boulevards throughout the city, including its affluent, mainly suburban east side.
To the planners, it was an equitable solution to the housing crisis. To neighborhood associations, it was armageddon.
“There was a passionate, angry plea … demanding the city halt the plans for ruining neighborhoods,” said activist Corliss Lee. “With increased building heights comes lots of people and cars.”
In the ensuing outcry, residents mobbed town hall meetings and ultimately forced the city to compromise, concentrating new housing mostly in downtown Long Beach.
The Long Beach revolt may be symptomatic of California’s losing battle with an ever-worsening housing crisis, some housing officials say.
California needs between 1.8 million and 3.5 million new homes by 2025, state and private reports say. To get there, cities and counties would have to approve two to four times the number of homes they’ve been permitting in the past few years.
But instead of approving more homes, almost every California city and county is falling behind its state-mandated housing goals, a Southern California News Group analysis of state data shows.
Most cities and counties comply with a state law requiring them to plan and zone for housing at all income levels. But fewer than 3% — just 15 jurisdictions — were on track to actually build those homes by the end of 2018.
Among SCNG’s findings:
The problem is worse for low-income housing: Just 22% of the state’s jurisdictions are on track for permitting low-income housing, while 45% are on track for upper-income housing.
And the inability to stay on track will be even more acute for Southern California in the decade ahead when the region’s target is expected to triple.
A scorecard created by SCNG showed that just one-sixth of California cities and counties earned an A or a B based on building permit numbers. More than half earned a D or an F.
“The numbers accentuate why California is in our worst housing crisis in state history,” said David Chiu, chair of the state Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee. “We’re not building enough homes, pure and simple.”
California “is all talk and virtually no action,” added John Burns, an Irvine-based homebuilding consultant.
“Most cities and counties celebrate economic growth, yet don’t permit enough housing to accommodate the additional workforce, resulting in high home prices, high rents and worsening traffic,” Burns said. “Anti-growth stances seem to be the key to getting reelected in many cities.”
City and county officials around the state lamented that while they see the need for more housing, their RHNA targets are unrealistic given the rising costs of construction, a labor shortage, aging infrastructure and neighborhood resistance to change.
RHNA is “the worst four-letter word you’ve never heard of,” said a commentary by Laguna Niguel Mayor John Mark Jennings, who dislikes the process even though his city got an A- in the SCNG scorecard after permitting eight times its RHNA target.
The need for more housing “is not in question,” Jennings wrote.
But “this one-size-fits-all, oversimplified, top-down approach creates a host of problems that cities are left to address,” he wrote. “Never mind allowing local residents and business owners to decide what is right for their communities. And never mind that a city is built out leaving no space for the mandated units.”
The consequences of not meeting state housing goals, however, “are dire,” Chiu warned.
“We will lose our workforce and our competitiveness. Hundreds of thousands of families will be pushed out on the streets and into homelessness,” Chiu said. “… When you have a huge percentage of our state paying an enormous portion of their monthly income on housing, it makes it harder for everyday Californians to put food on the table, afford health care (or) pay for educational expenses.”
Until recently, RHNA goals have been mostly voluntary, and few municipalities met their targets to actually build housing.
Although state leaders have enacted several measures designed to “put teeth” in RHNA, few sanctions exist for cities and counties failing to meet actual construction goals.
Senate Bill 35 forces communities failing to meet RHNA construction goals to automatically green-light residential projects meeting zoning and planning rules and other standards. But so far, just 44 projects around the state have sought approval under SB 35, mainly for affordable housing, according to data compiled by the Bay Area News Group.
Other laws opened cities up to lawsuits if their plans fail to include enough housing or if they fail to approve developments that comply with their land-use policies. So far, Huntington Beach remains the only city sued by the state under those laws.
In January, Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened to withhold transportation funding from local governments that failed “to make progress toward required production goals.” But in June, Newsom backed down during budget negotiations from imposing financial consequences on localities that fail to build enough housing.
Under the RHNA process, the state housing department determines how many homes each region must plan for over a five- to eight-year period. Then regional planning agencies like the Southern California Association of Governments or the Association of Bay Area Governments divvy up the numbers among local cities and counties.
For the scorecard, SCNG looked at how far each jurisdiction is into its RHNA cycle and compared how many building permits it has issued with the number it should have issued by now to be on track.
Asked to explain their housing performance, all 25 of the jurisdictions reached by SCNG — even those that had earned a D or an F — said they’re pro-housing and understand the need for stepped-up homebuilding.
But many argued they’re only responsible for “setting the table” for development under RHNA. They must adopt land-use plans and ensure there’s sufficient zoning for new housing, but aren’t responsible if the homes don’t get built.
“State law does not require cities to achieve their RHNA goals because cities only control one aspect of the development process — plans and development regulations,” said Brian Saeki, city manager for the San Gabriel Valley town of Covina, which received an F in the SCNG scorecard for failing to report the 80 building permits it issued since 2014.
“We’re at the mercy of the market,” added Albert Lopez, planning director of the Bay Area’s Alameda County, which received a C- after permitting about half of the homes needed to be on track. “If the builders want to come in, we will accommodate them.”
Scott Wiener, chairman of the state Senate Housing Committee, called those answers “an excuse.”
“We hear this all the time,” Wiener said. “Cities don’t build housing. It’s all the developers’ fault.”
While most cities do “set the table” by adopting land-use plans, they also adopt restrictive regulations and high “impact” fees that keep housing out, Wiener said.
“There are far too many cities in California that make it extremely difficult or even impossible to build new housing,” he said. “Cities that have very restrictive zoning. Cities that put you through a multi-year approval process, even for a small project. Cities that will zone for, say, 20 units, but then force you down to five units. … The list goes on.”
For the full article, visit https://www.presstelegram.com/2019/12/09/losing-the-rhna-battle-97-of-cities-counties-fail-to-meet-state-housing-goals/