Court dismisses lawsuit by four small cities over SANDAG housing allocation

Solana Beach City Hall
(Staff photo)

A lawsuit filed against the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) by four cities over a statewide housing mandate has been dismissed in Superior Court.

The cities of Solana Beach, Imperial Beach, Coronado and Lemon Grove wanted to lower the number of new housing units they will have to accommodate over the next decade as part of the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA).

SANDAG released a statement that said the agency was “relieved” by the court’s decision, and that the housing units allocated to each city “will help the San Diego region address the housing crisis by planning for more housing and making more housing available.”

“It is difficult when any city that is a member of SANDAG disagrees with SANDAG Board action and sues on behalf of its municipal constituents,” the statement read. “We were relieved to learn that a judge dismissed the lawsuit filed by four cities over the Board-approved Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation numbers.”

The state’s department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) assigned San Diego County a RHNA total of 171,000 new housing units across all income levels. The SANDAG board of directors approved a methodology in 2019 that distributed those units throughout the county based on proximity to jobs and transit, resulting in higher allocations for coastal cities, compared to the RHNA assignments they received from previous cycles.

Solana Beach, for example, received a RHNA assignment of 875 housing units for the sixth RHNA cycle, which spans from 2021 to 2029. During the fifth RHNA cycle, the city’s number was 340.

Coronado saw a 1,900% increase in its RHNA assignment from the fifth cycle, 50, to the sixth, 1,001. Its final sixth cycle figure was lowered to 912 during the appeals process. The other three cities that appealed did not receive any reductions.

The lawsuit the four cities filed against SANDAG alleges “abuses of discretion” that led to the final sixth cycle RHNA allocation. It also alleges bias from other SANDAG board members during the appeals process.

Coronado City Manager Blair King said in a statement that the city was “disappointed” by the court’s decision.

“The ruling did not address the merit of our case that SANDAG’s appeals process did not meet the standards for a fair hearing,” he said. “It is unfortunate that we were forced to seek judicial intervention in the first place. The level of cooperation, or lack thereof, is yet another example of the ongoing failings at the regional planning level.”

Solana Beach City Councilman David Zito represented the city on the SANDAG board as it developed the methodology for assigning housing units for the sixth cycle RHNA. He introduced an alternative plan that would have shifted units away from the five smallest cities in San Diego County, and a majority of SANDAG board members voted for it. But by a followup weighted vote, in which a small group of SANDAG board members who represent larger cities can overrule a majority of board members, it failed.

Zito declined to comment. Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner, who has since replaced Zito on the SANDAG board, also declined to comment.

Cities throughout San Diego County face an April deadline to complete their new housing elements, which show how they will zone for the new RHNA assignments.