Affordable-housing nonprofit sues H.B. over changes in Beach-Edinger plan

An Irvine-based affordable-housing advocacy group has sued Huntington Beach, alleging that the city’s housing plan no longer complies with state law after changes the city made to the Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan.

In the suit, filed July 31 in Orange County Superior Court, the the nonprofit Kennedy Commission claims that amendments to the Beach and Edinger plan in May “severely restrict housing development within the [specific plan], contrary to the mandates of [the city’s] own housing element and state law.” The suit argues that the changes will make the city unable to meet its requirements for low-income housing.

The Kennedy Commission is seeking reversal of the changes and for the city to abide by the state-approved housing plan that it submitted in 2013.

“We’re concerned about the opportunities for affordable housing, being that Orange County is among the least affordable counties in the nation and in California,” said Cesar Covarrubias, executive director of the nonprofit. “We believe that every city should have appropriate sites to create opportunities for housing all its residents, especially low-income residents.”

Huntington Beach officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The city adopted the Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan in March 2010 in an effort to revitalize Beach Boulevard and Edinger Avenue, the city’s two major streets, by streamlining the approval process for development projects. The specific plan is tied to Huntington Beach’s housing element, a guideline in the city’s general plan that it uses to identify ways the city can address housing needs for all economic segments as the community grows.

This year, many residents complained about the high-density residential projects popping up on Beach Boulevard. Many criticized the Elan mixed-use project at Beach and Ellis Avenue, which has 274 housing units, 27 of which were identified for moderate-income households.

In May, the City Council approved amendments to the specific plan that were intended to slow the amount of development being approved. The changes included reducing the maximum number of residential units allowed along the corridors, imposing stricter height and setback requirements and requiring a conditional use permit for new projects.

The Kennedy Commission claims the housing element became noncompliant when the city reduced the number of allowed residential units along the corridors from 4,500 to 2,100.

Of the 2,100 units, 1,900 are under construction or have been approved.

The city had planned for the possibility of 628 lower-income units to be built along the corridors. But since the number of allowed residential units has been reduced, the Kennedy Commission claims Huntington Beach will not be able to meet that.

“What I know today is that there are no other sites for affordable housing in Huntington Beach,” Covarrubias said.

The Southern California Assn. of Governments does a regional housing-needs assessment that identifies how many units a city would need over an eight-year period for households in very low income, low income, moderate income and above moderate income categories. The income levels in each category are determined as percentages of the county median annual income, according to Huntington Beach’s housing element.

For example, in Orange County in 2012, low income was defined as 51% to 80% of the median. For a four-person household, the upper level in the low-income category was about $77,000.

Very low income was defined as 50% or less of the median. The upper level for that category was about $48,000 for a four-person household.

In September 2013, Huntington Beach submitted a housing element to the California Department of Housing and Community Development that looked at expected affordable-housing needs from 2014 to 2021. It projected the city would need at least 1,353 affordable units citywide. The plan was approved in November that year.

The city already had met its needs for moderate housing — 248 units — and above moderate — 572. However, a total of 533 units for low and very low incomes have yet to be addressed, Covarrubias said.

The Kennedy Commission is not the only agency concerned about the amendments. The Department of Housing and Community Development cautioned the city before its decision in May that the changes could make its housing element non-compliant with state law.

The agency said it has asked Huntington Beach since June to submit a new housing element for state review.

If the city does not, it could make it difficult for Huntington Beach to apply for and receive grants and loans, state officials said.