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Local cities consider how to accommodate state-defined housing needs

COSTA MESA, February 18, 2016 - Excavators sit at the site of a new housing complex at 580 Anton in
Excavators sit at the site of a new apartment complex at 580 Anton Blvd. in Costa Mesa in February 2016.
(File Photo)

If the state comes and tells your city it needs a few thousand more housing units, how do you respond?

That’s the question that Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach face, and to a lesser extent, Fountain Valley and Laguna Beach.

It means increased density, rezoning of aging nonresidential areas, even “granny flats.”

The Southern California Assn. of Governments — which represents Orange, Los Angeles and four other Southern California counties — is developing an allocation method for the cities and unincorporated regions under its umbrella for 2021 through 2029 under the direction of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which announced this summer that the region needs 1.3 million newly built housing units during that time frame.

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For Orange County, that means 109,442 under the latest methodology unveiled Oct. 1 by a SCAG subcommittee. Locally, it breaks out to 4,323 for Costa Mesa, 3,625 for Huntington Beach, 2,764 for Newport Beach, 1,376 for Fountain Valley and 55 for Laguna Beach.

SCAG may accept the subcommittee’s methodology next month and send it to Housing and Community Development for review. It could become final in February.

Though the state doesn’t require the cities to build the homes directly, they must at least accommodate the need on paper through zoning for residential development. Homes would be further allocated by income level, from “very low income” to the open-ended “above moderate.”

“Life’s full of changes. Cities grow, they evolve. The trick is to get them to grow in a way that’s healthy and manageable,” said Cynthia McDonald, chairwoman of Costa Mesa’s Bikeway and Walkability Committee. “The high numbers are a strong message; you need to take control of the planning in the city.”

Costa Mesa

The expected state requirement for Costa Mesa of 4,323 new housing units includes about 25% for residents of very low income, about 15% for low income, about 18% for moderate income and about 42% for above moderate income.

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City Council members acknowledge pushback from the community when it comes to making Costa Mesa more urban by increasing density in residential areas.

Mayor Katrina Foley said at a meeting Tuesday, where the council discussed Costa Mesa’s potential contributions, that the city shouldn’t just identify properties to increase density citywide but should be intentional about choosing specific areas that can be built out more, such as the area north of the 405 Freeway.

Councilwoman Andrea Marr voiced a preference for developments that mix retail and housing. Costa Mesa is already expecting a large-scale mixed-use development when the Plant, whose plans the council approved last month, arrives in Costa Mesa’s Sobeca District. She suggested focusing on a couple of parts of the city, such as west of Newport Boulevard, rather than having new, dense structures “springing up” in neighborhoods.

“This is an opportunity for us to embark on a visioning for our city,” Marr said.

Foley agreed that updating the city’s housing element offers the opportunity for a comprehensive vision.

“The piecemeal approach, which is what we’ve always had, is why we have four stories next to a single bungalow house,” Foley said. “We just have a hodgepodge.”

Newport Beach

In addition to increasing density, cities look first to rezone what Newport Beach city planner Jamie Murillo called “underutilized sites.” That’s been the case around John Wayne Airport, where multifamily developments such as Uptown Newport and Newport Crossings are replacing aging commercial buildings.

Portions of West Newport, Newport Center and Newport Coast also could yield land for homes. Accessory dwelling units, or granny flats, around town could help meet the requirement.

Potential sites for new housing development will be outlined in the city’s general plan, which is in the first year of an expected three-year update process. Public outreach is set to begin soon, and residential rezoning has to be part of that, Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill said during a council meeting Tuesday to discuss the allocation update.

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“It’s not a question of ‘Where do you want to see new housing?’ People will say ‘Nowhere,’ ” O’Neill said. “Now it’s ‘Where do you want to see 2,700 units?’ And people say ‘Nowhere.’

“But still, you actually have to start piecing that together. So it’s good that we’re at least in that phase now where we can actually have this kind of conversation.”

Huntington Beach

Of the 3,625 new housing units allocated for Surf City, about 44% would be designated for low-income and very low-income units, about 17% for moderate incomes and about 39% for above moderate incomes, according to the data.

City officials did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

In January, California filed a lawsuit against Huntington Beach, accusing the city of failing to comply with a state housing mandate. In August, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge denied the city’s request to dismiss the case.

Laguna Beach

City Manager John Pietig said Wednesday that possible locations for the 55 housing units allocated for Laguna Beach are undetermined, partly because the city is largely built out.

The city is analyzing the figures and monitoring the process for finalizing them, Pietig said. Staff will have a discussion with the City Council when more information is available, he said.

Fountain Valley officials did not respond to a request for comment about that city’s numbers.

Daily Pilot staff writers Julia Sclafani and Lilly Nguyen contributed to this report.

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