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State dials up pressure on Coronado to zone for more affordable housing

State housing officials are ratcheting up pressure on Coronado to adopt a plan that meaningfully addresses the city's need for affordable housing and racial desegregation.

California's Department of Housing and Community Development, or HCD, sent Coronado a letter last week stating that after more than 18 months the city is still out of compliance with the state's "housing element" law. This requires local governments to plan for enough new housing to meet population growth.

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The state legislature has strengthened the law in recent years, requiring cities to account for historic underproduction of housing and take active steps to combat segregation linked to racist government policies like redlining.

Those changes led to a major increase in the amount of growth expected from Coronado, one of the wealthiest cities in San Diego County. But city leaders last year adopted a housing element that openly defied the state's orders, zoning for just over one-third of the 912 homes Coronado had been allocated. The city also attempted to fight its housing allocation in court but lost.

HCD's letter, dated Dec. 14, warns Coronado that it may be referred to the Attorney General's Office for prosecution, and that courts can impose fines of between $10,000 and $100,000 per month for persistent noncompliance.

Property owners in Coronado can also submit development plans that violate the city's zoning laws, and the city would have limited power to deny them. That could mean apartment buildings popping up that far exceed the city's density and height limits. Similar projects have been proposed in cities such as Santa Monica and Redondo Beach.

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Coronado Community Development Director Richard Grunow told KPBS the city is working on a housing element that zones for all 912 homes it was assigned.

"City staff has been engaged with HCD to determine how Coronado may overcome its many unique geographic and regulatory constraints necessary to complete a compliant Housing Element Update," Grunow said.

Other local cities — Del Mar, Escondido, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Oceanside, Poway and Solana Beach — have also been without a compliant housing element for more than a year and half. The state has been sending noncompliant cities increasingly threatening letters, but has so far declined to take more aggressive legal action in hopes that cities work toward compliance on their own.

Melinda Coy, who oversees HCD's proactive enforcement of housing element law, said Coronado is the first city in San Diego County to receive a "notice of violation" letter that demands a written response within 30 days. Cities including Compton, Commerce and San Bernardino have received similar letters for failing to submit any housing element for the state to review.

State officials have had several phone calls with Coronado city staffers, Coy added, and have offered technical assistance on how to craft a housing plan that complies with the law.

"They are working on a draft," Coy said. "However we do not have a timeline yet for completion, or when that draft will come to us, which is something that we requested in this notice of violation."

In particular, Coy said, Coronado has a lot of work to do in identifying which properties can be zoned for higher density and would likely be redeveloped before the housing element's expiration in 2029.

David Zisser, who leads HCD's Housing Accountability Unit, said every community in California — especially those with good jobs and schools — has to help the state build its way out of the housing shortage.

"It is important that jurisdictions in high-opportunity areas, that provide access to opportunity, are doing their fair share," Zisser said.

  • State housing officials are dialing up the pressure on Coronado to zone for more affordable housing, or the city could soon face a lawsuit.
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