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July 13, 2023
Court finds City of La Cañada Flintridge failed to comply with housing element law following lawsuit by housing group.
LOS ANGELES (July 13) – Californians for Homeownership, a nonprofit organization sponsored by the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (C.A.R.)that aims to address California’s housing crisis through impact litigation, announced today that it has prevailed on a core claim in its lawsuit against the City of La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., to enforce state housing element law.
In the July 11 decision, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge held that La Cañada Flintridge had failed to rezone sites to accommodate the city’s regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) in a timely manner, and that the city’s housing element will not be considered substantially compliant with state law until the city has done so. The court rejected the city’s argument that compliance with the deadlines in state housing element law is not mandatory and that cities are not subject to penalties when they fail to meet these deadlines.
“This is a major win for housing,” said C.A.R. President Jennifer Branchini. “For far too long, certain cities and counties have treated compliance with state housing laws as optional. This decision sends a clear message: complying with these laws is not optional, and these laws will be enforced.”
La Cañada Flintridge has a well-documented history of interfering with the development of housing. The Los Angeles Times recently chronicled the city’s decade-long effort to avoid the development of one particular parcel along Foothill Boulevard, a major commercial corridor through the city. The owners of that site recently submitted a proposal under the “builder’s remedy,” a provision in state housing law that allows developers of mixed- and moderate-income projects to override certain local zoning rules in cities that are out of compliance with housing element law.
“Tuesday’s decision paves the way for this project and others to move forward under the builder’s remedy, getting much-needed affordable housing built in La Cañada,” said Matthew Gelfand, the in-house litigator for the nonprofit. “Hopefully, this will provide the push the city needs to get its act together and complete the housing element planning process.”
The decision resolves one of the two claims in the organization’s lawsuit against the city. After there is a trial or other resolution on the remaining claim, the court will order the city to complete its rezoning process within 60 days, or as soon as public notice laws allow. The city will also be subject to one or more penalties, which can include a suspension of permitting authority.
The RHNA and housing element process is an interconnected system for ensuring that California’s cities and counties plan for adequate housing to address statewide and regional housing needs. In the RHNA assessment, state and local governments work together to identify regional housing needs and distribute them among a region’s cities and counties. Each city and county must then develop a “housing element” — a component of the city’s general plan that identifies sites available for future housing development sufficient to meet the city’s RHNA allocation. If the city cannot identify adequate sites, it must change its zoning to allow additional housing development.
Housing element compliance has been a major focus for Californians for Homeownership over the last two years. The nonprofit offers to forgo litigation against cities that are willing to acknowledge and comply with the state law penalties for non-compliance. La Cañada Flintridge declined this offer. To date, the organization has filed over 20 housing element lawsuits and has settled 10. The settlements generally commit cities and counties to specific timelines for adoption of their housing elements and require them to comply with the “builder’s remedy” while out of compliance.
The case is Californians for Homeownership v. City of La Cañada Flintridge, Los Angeles County Superior Court Case No. 23STCP00699. A copy of the court’s decision is available on request.
Californians for Homeownership is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization sponsored by the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® devoted to using legal tools to address California's housing crisis. For too long, California's cities have treated compliance with state and federal housing law as optional. The organization seeks to change that attitude by proactively enforcing the law, on behalf of the important public interest in having additional housing available to families at all income levels. Californians for Homeownership was established by the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (C.A.R.), and it receives financial support from C.A.R. and private donors. To make a tax-deductible charitable contribution today, visit caforhomes.org.