Laguna Beach officials reject latest housing construction goal

A Laguna beach staff report says the city is largely built out within its environmental restraints and cites concerns about preserving the city's "small-scale village character."
( Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Laguna Beach City Council adopted a resolution this week opposing the methods the Southern California Assn. of Governments used recently in determining that the city needs to plan for 390 new housing units and called for the state Department of Housing and Community Development to intervene.

Laguna Beach’s allocation in the Regional Housing Needs Assessment is a representation of future housing needs. State law requires cities and counties to identify sites and zones where they can meet their allocations. It does not force the construction of planned housing.

SCAG is responsible for identifying such allocations in Orange County as well as several other counties.

In August, initial assessments indicated Laguna Beach would need to set aside enough land for at least 55 homes by 2029. By November, that number had risen to 390 as part of a push for more housing in coastal communities.


After SCAG reshuffled the allocations in a dramatic adjustment Nov. 7, Newport’s share climbed about 75% over minimums announced in October. Costa Mesa’s share more than doubled. Fountain Valley’s more than tripled. Same in Huntington Beach.

Advocates for growth along the coast argue that more housing is needed near job and transportation centers, meeting a high demand for new homes and reducing long commutes from inland communities that lead to increased carbon emissions.

But Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig said in November that he was “very concerned about this shift of housing units to coastal cities.”

“There does not appear to be a logical basis for [the] shift, and the targets are not attainable,” he said.

The resolution opposes the modified methodology adopted by SCAG, arguing that it lacked specificity, supporting documentation and vetting by SCAG staff, and showed a “near total absence of stakeholder engagement.”

SCAG said in a statement that “we have a set process to follow, and these numbers are far from final. The California Department of Housing and Community Development is still reviewing, and things will move forward once they give their approval. After the adoption of the final RHNA allocation methodology, the draft RHNA allocation will be released. This will most likely occur in February. SCAG will let stakeholders know when the draft RHNA allocation is distributed.”

A city staff report says Laguna Beach is largely built out, with environmental and topographical restraints such as steep hillside terrain, narrow streets and undeveloped open spaces conducive to wildfires, in addition to local concerns about preserving the city’s “unique, small-scale village character.”

“The modified RHNA allocation methodology, as well as the manner in which it was approved by the SCAG Regional Council, undermine the integrity of what is mandated to be a collaborative RHNA process,” the resolution states.

It poses “a significant threat of lasting damage to the city of Laguna Beach if permitted to stand,” according to the resolution.

“We have been working on this for a long time, almost two years,” the SCAG statement said. “At the end of the day, we want the final RHNA to address the housing crisis. As a six-county region with such diverse members, we have a very fine needle to thread.”

Cities can formally appeal their allocations beginning in February. Laguna Beach officials could not immediately be reached for comment about whether they are considering an appeal.

Cities can’t appeal their state-mandated housing minimums until February, but Newport Beach appears to be gearing up already. Mayor Diane Dixon voiced objections this week to Newport’s current minimum of 4,832 new homes, which the Southern California Assn. of Governments says should be approved over the next decade.

Final allocations — including any alterations based on appeals — are expected to be adopted by October. The deadline for certification of housing plans is October 2021.

Nguyen writes for Times Community News.