Now out of compliance with California’s housing law, Long Beach will be forced to rezone enough parcels to accommodate 10,000 units by mid-October, or it will face possible penalties from the state that include losing out on state and federal funds.
Long Beach is one of 207 jurisdictions that are out of compliance with a law that requires jurisdictions to have a state-approved plan that dictates what kind of housing can be built where, known as a Housing Element.
The plans are submitted every eight years and must show there is room for parcels that are “eligible and likely to be developed” for the number of residential units each jurisdiction has been assigned.
In Long Beach’s case, the Southern California Association of Governments determined it needed to make room for 26,502 units between 2021 and 2029. The total is nearly four times the amount of units it was assigned during the previous eight-year period.
Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles are also out of compliance, with the latter being tasked with adding 250,000 units by October.
The Housing Element outlines plans for projected population growth by showing where new housing can be built at all levels of the market—from very low-income to market rate—as well as other programs the city has in place to ensure people have access to housing.
However, due to new state legislation adopted in September that reduced the time the state has to review and approve plans, and cities receiving their housing allocation numbers late due to the pandemic, most jurisdictions have not met the deadline and will now be subject to a sped-up rezoning schedule.
The city has been making adjustments to its plan since November and resubmitted its plan in February days before a statutory deadline of Feb. 11. However, because it has yet to be reviewed by the state, the city is considered non-compliant, which triggers the new zoning rule that requires jurisdictions to finish zoning changes in one year rather than three.
Rick De La Torre, a spokesperson for the city’s Development Services department, said that complying with the condensed zoning window will be “very challenging” for the city to do and would likely lead to a lower level of public outreach and technical analysis than the city typically does when making zoning changes.
Zoning changes in the city generally require public noticing and votes by the city’s Planning Commission and City Council. The areas of the city that require additional work include West Long Beach and the Anaheim Corridor, where some zoning changes are already underway.
The changes that need to be made by October would be consistent with what was previously approved in the city’s land use element in 2018, and some of that work has already begun, but De La Torre did not say whether the city believes it can meet the October deadline.
Housing Elements have been required by the state for decades, but the state has just recently started to clamp down on cities and counties for not meeting housing goals.
Long Beach’s submission initially faced issues due to a lack of parcels being identified in “high resource areas” of the city—including East and Southeast Long Beach—and for what the state felt was an inflated projection of accessory dwelling unit production that the city counted toward its unit production goal. But it’s been working with the state to adjust its plan to achieve compliance, officials said.
The most recently submitted plan has just 2,470 of the lowest-income units in its plan linked to parcels in the higher resource areas of the city.
Megan Kirkeby, the deputy director of housing policy development with the California Department of Housing & Community Development, which evaluates Housing Element submissions, said promoting fair housing practices where wealthier communities have plans for multifamily housing has been a focus for the state.
Whether cities are working in “good faith” to meet requirements will be taken into account, she said.
Kirkeby said it’s unclear what will happen to cities and counties that don’t meet the Oct. 15 zoning deadline, but said that the state will likely work with the entities that are trying to make progress. She noted there are 13 jurisdictions in the state that have yet to even submit a Housing Element.
“Someone who hasn’t turned in a Housing Element at all is going to be at the head of the line for enforcement,” Kirkeby said.
The most immediate issue facing non-compliant jurisdictions, besides the sped-up zoning requirements, is the loss of the ability to deny any project that includes a certain percentage as affordable housing.
If compliance is not met, California housing officials can ask the attorney general to file suit against the jurisdiction and a court can levy fines of up to $100,000 per month and could eventually strip local authority to grant and deny building permits from jurisdictions that remain in long periods of non-compliance.
Kirkeby said the more drastic penalties have yet to be used “but they are there.”
What’s more likely to affect a city like Long Beach, which is working toward being compliant, is losing out on state and federal funding opportunities for housing programs.
That’s likely to come in waves because some deadlines, like the local housing trust fund program, are up in the first half of the year while others are spread throughout the year and extend into mid-2023.
Kirkeby said the faster a city can achieve approval from the state the faster they can access those funds.
A ruling on the city’s latest submission is expected to come by April 12, with Kirkeby saying that it’s likely that the state could likely use the full 60 days to review it.
There is optimism that Long Beach will be found compliant, with Kirkeby pointing to the shrinking list of changes her department has asked for. Corrections requested in September spanned 10 pages while a January follow-up letter from the state was just over five pages.
“It’s clear they’re putting work in here,” Kirkeby said. “In no way should any of these jurisdictions be considered bad actors because they get a findings letter from us. That’s part of the work.”
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