We have filed lawsuits against Bradbury, La Habra Heights, Laguna Hills, Manhattan Beach, South Pasadena, and Vernon for failing to meet state housing planning obligations.

RHNA and Housing Element Law 

We have filed lawsuits against six Southern California cities for violating state laws that require cities to plan for the development of housing. The cities are Bradbury, La Habra Heights, Laguna Hills, Manhattan Beach, South Pasadena and Vernon.


The litigation aims to enforce the requirements of California’s RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) and housing element laws. Under the RHNA system, the 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 elements in the Southern California region were due on October 15, 2021. Some Southern California cities embraced the process, but all six cities targeted for litigation missed the state law deadline.


Enforcing these laws has been a major focus for us over the last year, and we have approached around 50 cities in Southern California to discuss their compliance with the law.  Later in 2022, our focus will shift to the Bay Area and other parts of the state, as those regions complete their housing elements. We typically offer to forgo litigation against cities that are willing to acknowledge the state law penalties for failing to adopt a housing element.

Our Lawsuits

Our lawsuits against Bradbury, La Habra Heights, Laguna Hills, South Pasadena and Vernon fault those cities for failing to adopt updated housing elements by the state mandated deadline. These cities were chosen for being far behind their peers in the housing element process, having demonstrated a hostility toward adequate housing planning or both.


In prior housing element cycles, without litigation, some cities have allowed the process of developing their housing elements to drag on for years after the state law deadlines. For example, the City of La Habra Heights did not develop its 2013 housing element until 2020.  Many Southern California cities have prioritized other non-urgent matters, including implementing policies to limit housing production, while putting off the housing element process.

 

Our lawsuit against the City of Manhattan Beach focuses on problems with the city’s recently adopted housing element. State law requires housing elements to identify sites that are likely to be developed into housing over an eight-year planning period — by 2029.  For sites with existing uses, such as shopping centers or office buildings, cities must provide evidence that the existing uses will be discontinued during that time. The requirements are even stricter for sites identified for lower-income housing.  


Manhattan Beach’s housing element relies on a number of sites that have little or no chance of being redeveloped by 2029. For example, the city included the Manhattan Country Club as a site likely to be developed with 149 low-income housing units. But the Club was purchased in 2017 by a national operator for $73 million, and the city has not cited any reason to believe that it is going to close any time soon. With these inappropriate sites excluded, the city’s housing element comes nowhere near satisfying its RHNA allocation.


Each lawsuit seeks an order requiring the city to 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. Among other penalties, cities without a compliant housing element are prohibited from using their ordinary zoning rules to reject certain types of housing developments. The court also has the discretion to control aspects of a city’s land use approvals — for example, halting the issuance of all non-residential building permits or judicially approving housing development projects that have been held up by a city.

The lawsuits are: