SANDAG rejects Solana Beach appeal over state housing mandate

Solana Beach City Hall
(File photo)

Solana Beach and three other cities fell short in their latest attempt to reduce the number of new housing units they will have to accommodate in the coming decade.

As part of the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), San Diego County has been asked to create zoning for approximately 171,000 new housing units across all income levels from 2021-29. The San Diego Association of Governments and its 21-member board of directors developed a methodology to distribute those units among cities and the unincorporated area based on proximity to transit and jobs, resulting in higher RHNA numbers for coastal cities than they received in past RHNA cycles.

In Solana Beach, for example, the city’s new RHNA allocation of 875 housing units is a 157% increase over its 340-unit allocation from the RHNA cycle that covered the last decade.

The cities of Solana Beach, Imperial Beach and Lemon Grove each unsuccessfully appealed to the SANDAG board of directors during the board’s online meeting on June 26 in an attempt to get their RHNA allocations lowered.

Coronado, the fourth city that appealed, earned a nominal victory. It’s RHNA number was lowered from 1,001 to 912 based on the fact that a small portion of the naval air station is located in the city of San Diego, and therefore not all the jobs on the station can be attributed to Coronado. Coronado’s new number is still a 1,724% increase from the 50 units it was assigned almost 10 years ago during the last RHNA cycle. The extra 89 units will be shifted to the city of San Diego, which now has a RHNA number of 108,036.

Each of the four cities made a 10-minute presentation to the SANDAG board about their appeals. Solana Beach City Manager Greg Wade said the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for potential business closures, commuters and other factors should be taken into account.

“Those are things we believe will persist for the foreseeable future and should be included in this assessment and hearing of the appeal,” Wade said.

The appeal by Solana Beach claimed that the RHNA numbers did not take into account the amount of land in the city that can accommodate new development, and questioned the veracity of the employment data SANDAG used as part of the basis for appropriating new units to each city. SANDAG staff rebutted those concerns, among a series of other claims in the city’s appeal.

Pending any litigation or other last-ditch effort before the SANDAG board takes a final vote on the new RHNA cycle, each city will move forward with its assigned number now that the appeals process has concluded.

Solana Beach City Councilman David Zito, who serves on the SANDAG board, said Solana Beach has already hired a consultant and held its first public meeting to gather input on the city’s new housing element. Additional public hearings on the Solana Beach housing element were postponed due to City Council meeting schedule changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each city is supposed to complete its updated housing element by April 2021. But after COVID-19 led to the closures of city government facilities throughout the state and hindered public access, SANDAG has asked the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development for an extension.

“The impacts to our city with the numbers that we’ve been assigned are so incredibly large that it’s going to take a significant amount of discussion and input from the public on how to manage it,” Zito said in a phone interview after the meeting.

Historically, cities have fallen short of their assigned RHNA numbers without receiving any penalty. New state laws have been passed to motivate cities to meet their goals, including one law that streamlines new development if they fail to do so.

During a SANDAG board meeting last September, Zito proposed a change in the RHNA numbers that would have reduced the allocations to the five smallest cities, which includes Solana Beach, by 55%. That proposal was defeated by a weighted vote, in which a smaller group of SANDAG board members from the biggest cities, as well as board members from the county government, can overrule a majority of the board members who represent small cities.

“It’s turning SANDAG into an extension of the city of San Diego, as opposed to the regional body that’s coming up with regional solutions that are actually going to be advocated for and bought into by the entire region,” Zito said.

During the June 26 meeting, a motion to reject the four appeals, while granting one portion of Coronado’s appeal and lowering the city’s count by 89 units, was approved by a minority of board members on a weighted vote.

Several SANDAG board members who represent small cities have said over the past several months that their allocations are unreasonably large, and have questioned whether their cities will be able to successfully accommodate them in their new housing elements.

“That concern has been heard loud and clear throughout the process,” said Del Mar Mayor Ellie Haviland, who serves on the SANDAG board and voted in favor of rejecting the three appeals and granting part of Coronado’s. “But the solution is not to reduce the production of desperately needed housing, but to fight for more tools.”

Del Mar’s assigned RHNA number is 163, a 167% increase over its assignment of 61 units from the previous RHNA cycle. Over the past year, Haviland has voted against attempts to veer from the jobs- and transit-based methodology that will place more housing in coastal cities, which a majority of Del Mar council members have agreed to support.

At the SANDAG meeting last week, Haviland said the region’s state representatives have been willing to work with local governments on meeting their housing goals.

“I think neighboring cities need to work together to find solutions,” she added. “I don’t think any one city is going to be able to solve this on their own, certainly not the small cities.”