A nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing housing availability in California has filed legal action against La Mirada, as well as eight other Southern California cities, accusing officials of dragging their feet in implementing state-required plans to expand housing.
Californians for Homeownership, which is sponsored by the California Association of Realtors, filed a petition for a writ of mandate last month against La Mirada, as well as Fullerton and Claremont, according to the organization and court documents.
The group has previously filed similar legal action against the cities of Vernon, South Pasadena, Manhattan Beach, Laguna Hills, La Habra Heights and Bradbury.
The targeted towns have failed to comply with state housing laws through the development of housing elements under California’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation, according to Californians for Homeownership. But the deadline elapsed just over a year ago on Oct. 15, 2021.
Californians for Homeownership attorney Matthew Gelfand said the most recent lawsuits against La Mirada, Claremont and Fullerton were filed, “because, in our assessment, they are unlikely to adopt valid housing elements within the next six to 12 months without being forced to do so through litigation.”
“We are already nearly a year into the eight-year planning period that these plans are intended to cover,” he said in a written statement. “Developers are anxiously waiting for these plans to be finalized so that they can begin developing much-needed housing, and every month these cities delay is another month working with outdated land use rules that make it hard to build homes.”
La Mirada City Manager Jeff Boynton said the city does not comment on litigation, but pointed out that the process of completing the city’s 2021 - 2029 Housing Element Update was well underway.
An initial draft was submitted to the California Department of Housing and Community Development for review on July 13, he said.
Following a housing survey and two community workshops, a week-long public review period for the 2nd Revised Draft of the city’s Housing Element Update ended Friday, according to a city statement.
The revised draft was to be submitted to the HCD on Monday, according to Boynton.
“This updated document aims to address items identified by HCD as requiring revision in the initial submittal,” he said in an email. “Once HCD certifies the City’s Housing Element, it will be considered for adoption by the City’s Planning Commission and City Council.”
Californians for Homeownership alleges that in addition to working too slowly, the plans previously submitted by officials in the targeted cities have been inadequate.
Through formal housing elements, cities are required by state law to identify sites for future housing and development within RHNA standards, or change local zoning to allow for more development, according to Californians for Homeownership.
“These cities produced draft housing elements that are far from meeting their obligations under state law and have made little progress in fixing them,” Gelfand said.
"For example, the city of La Mirada failed to explain how it intended to accommodate the assigned RHNA in each income category, which is one of the most basic required features of a housing element,” he said. “The city's current draft is not a serious attempt to comply with state law.”
The lawsuits seek court orders mandating that each city “adopt a compliant housing element on an expedited basis, as well as a judicial declaration that the city is subject to certain state law penalties for being out of compliance,” the Californians for Homeownership statement said.
“The nonprofit typically offers to forgo litigation against cities that are willing to acknowledge the state law penalties for failing to adopt a housing element,” the statement added. “It made that offer to each of the three cities, but they declined.”
City officials in Laguna Hills, South Pasadena and Bradbury have chosen to enter into settlement agreements, according to the organization.