Low-cost-housing advocates sued the city of Mission Viejo on Wednesday in an attempt to force it to meet state affordable-housing targets.
The master-planned community of 100,000 was reprimanded by the state two years ago for giving short shrift to low-cost housing in developments it approved.
The lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court by the Public Law Center, the Legal Aid Society and the California Housing Law Project, seeks to stop a recently approved project that includes 22 lower-cost homes amid 122 residences that will sell at market rates.
Two years ago, a 168-unit affordable apartment complex on the same site that would have met the state's affordable-housing standards was rejected by city officials.
"They've given this proposal approvals without any other land being identified for affordable housing," said Eileen McCarthy, a Public Law Center attorney. "We are objecting to the use of one of the last few vacant parcels in town. If they're not going to build affordable housing here, then where?"
Councilman Lance MacLean said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the suit, since the city approved the construction of 55 affordable units in the last year. Even so, it fell short by 94 units under state requirements.
"Not only have we added units, we're working on a plan to address the 94 units we are still short," said MacLean, who added that the city had formed a committee to address its affordable-housing shortage. "This lawsuit isn't helping us. It's only going to cause further delay, and now we're going to have to use housing funds to defend this lawsuit."
State officials warned the city in 2004 that it was not creating enough housing for lower-income residents. Cathy Creswell, deputy director of the state's housing policy development division, said the city was vulnerable to litigation and ineligible for government housing grants.
The controversy was rekindled last year when city Planning Commissioner Brad Morton suggested in internal e-mails that the city find another community to shoulder its low-cost-housing responsibility.