Coronado still waiting for California to crack down on housing plan
The city's refusal to zone for enough homes could lead to tough consequences. But state officials don't appear eager to lay down the law yet.
Last summer the Coronado City Council approved an eight-year housing plan that was openly defiant of California's affordable housing laws. The city did so under the assumption that a crackdown from state officials would not come anytime soon. And the bet appears to be paying off — for now.
Coronado's "housing element" is meant to both plan for the city's future growth and account for decades of underbuilding that have led to the current scarce housing supply and skyrocketing home prices and rents.
The city was ordered to zone for 912 additional homes — a massive increase compared to previous allocations. Ultimately, though, the city chose to zone for only 344 new homes.
In a nine-page letter sent last November, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) found Coronado's housing element officially noncompliant with state law. In addition to not planning for enough housing, Coronado also failed to analyze patterns of segregation and come up with a strategy to undo them, among other things.
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HCD's Housing Accountability Unit is tasked with holding local governments accountable to state housing laws. The state tends to assume that cities are working toward compliance in good faith and will offer technical assistance before taking legal action, said David Zisser, who leads the Housing Accountability Unit.
"We are currently discussing what the right time frame is" for enforcement action, Zisser said. "And it's really not a matter of if — it's a matter of when."
Zisser's remarks came during a roundtable discussion hosted by the San Diego Housing Federation last Tuesday. He added that Coronado will face some consequences in the immediate term, such as ineligibility for certain pots of state money for infrastructure and affordable housing. But housing advocates say that for a city with Coronado's wealth, the threat is unlikely to cause much pain.
Property owners can also propose housing projects that conflict with Coronado's zoning and ask a court to grant them a building permit. But that process is lengthy, costly and filled with uncertainty.
Coronado is far from alone. Only seven jurisdictions in San Diego County — Carlsbad, Encinitas, Imperial Beach, National City, San Marcos and the city and county of San Diego — have state-approved housing elements.
In the sprawling planning region that encompasses Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside and Imperial Counties, only seven local governments have certified housing elements, while 190 cities and counties are out of compliance, according to the Los Angeles Times.
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Many of the cities out of compliance are making good faith efforts to fix their housing elements, said Jon Wizard, policy director for the Campaign for Fair Housing Elements, a project of the Bay Area-based nonprofit YIMBY Law. He thinks it is reasonable for the state to give them time to do so.
"But certainly cities that are objectively and obviously obstructionist or obstinate should have a little bit more attention than I think we've been seeing from the state," Wizard said.
What sets Coronado apart from most other noncompliant cities, however, is its refusal to even accept the number of homes assigned to it. The city is currently appealing a lawsuit challenging its housing allocation, but faces an uphill battle in proving its case.
And comments from the Coronado City Council make clear that officials knew their housing element would violate state law, and were counting on getting away with it because the state would be overwhelmed with similar battles elsewhere.
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"With our active lawsuit, and with other things going on in (HCD's) process, we would probably have a few years before they might get serious," Coronado City Councilmember Michael Donovan said at the council's meeting on June 15, 2021.
While the state ponders how long to wait before cracking down, Zisser said HCD's limited resources mean that it will have to distinguish between scofflaw cities and those that are trying their best to get right with the law.
"I can't say in terms of capacity that we'll be able to go after every jurisdiction," Zisser said. "But we hope that we won't have to — that a notice of violation or outreach will prompt some of these jurisdictions to work meaningfully towards coming into compliance."
Asked for further clarification on how seriously Coronado was working toward compliance, HCD spokeswoman Alicia Murillo said in an email: "We continue to provide jurisdictions with technical assistance and understand that Coronado is working on addressing our findings. We will continue to monitor their progress and to explore our options under the statute."
Coronado is not using the state's technical assistance, but is continuing to pay a consultant to come up with revisions to the housing element that would satisfy the state.