Seal Beach officials study update of city plan’s Housing Element

File photo

The state requires Seal Beach to plan for more living units. The city could face litigation if it doesn’t meet the planning mandate.

But the state can’t force the city to actually build more places to live.

The city has until Oct. 15 of this year to complete the update.

On Monday, March 8, council members and planning commissioners raised concerns about the potential impact of state-mandated planning for more residential units on parking and shopping in town.

The issues came up during a joint Planning Commission and the City Council meeting about the state-mandated update of the Housing Element of the city’s General Plan.

“We have one side of the state telling us to build, build, build, and the other side telling us to retreat,” said Mayor/District One Councilman Joe Kalmick. The mayor was apparently referring to the state legislature and the California Coastal Commission, respectively.

Why should you care? According to the staff report by Les Johnson, director of Community Development:

• State law requires cities update their Housing Elements every eight years.

• A regional agency has determined that Seal Beach needs to plan for 1,243 more housing units. (But the state government can’t force Seal Beach to actually build them.)

• Seal Beach officials can’t force anyone to build them.

City Attorney Craig Steele explained the legal issues to the Sun.

The main advantage of a certified Housing Plan, according to Steele, is that it would be difficult for someone to argue that it isn’t valid, according to recent email from Steele.

“If a city is unable to obtain certification, there is a multi-step process of trying to bring the element into compliance,” Steele wrote.

“But if, at the end of the day, it is not certified the state HCD will notify the Attorney General that the element is not certified and the AG or other challenger may bring a court action,” Steele wrote.

“The court can order all kinds of remedies but the most significant is that the court can prevent the city from approving any development proposals until the housing element is brought into compliance.  This means the state would be making local development decisions,” Steele wrote.

According to Johnson, there are several potential locations in town for the hypothetical housing. The locations will be reviewed by an ad hoc committee.

District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic said the Coastal Commission has indicated it is reluctant to approve development in the coastal zone due to potential sea rise. Sustarsic also expressed concern about the potential impact of development on parking.

District Two Councilman Thomas Moore also pointed that his constituents complain about having trouble finding a place to park on Montecito Road (which runs alongside of the Shops at Rossmoor Center).

Kalmick said he had a lot of questions about the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which is the technical name for the allotment of 1,243 residential units that Seal Beach needs to plan to build.

That could include accessory dwelling units (also known as “granny flats”) and junior ADUs.


California requires cities to update their Housing Element every eight years, according to Seal Beach Community Development Director Less Johnson. The California Department of Housing and Community Development gets to certify the Housing Element.

Complicating the matter is the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment. That’s a determination of how many residential units ought to be built in the state.  In Seal Beach, the number set by the Southern California Association of Governments is the previously mentioned  1,243 units.

“The RHNA is a planning requirement based upon housing need, not a construction quota or mandate,” Johnson wrote.

One of the issues is affordability. “Affordable housing rents and purchase prices are determined based on State policy that households should not pay more than 30% of their gross income for housing,” Johnson wrote.

But, no, the city can’t regulate incomes or rents.

“The City cannot directly restrict the incomes of potential renters or buyers,” wrote City Attorney Craig Steele.

“The City does have certain tools under state law that it could use for new residential development that would incentivize landowners to deed restrict certain units only for sale or lease to persons of low or moderate income.  That is typically a small percentage of the units,” Steele wrote.

“The state cannot compel the City to restrict incomes.  Rather, the state requires that the City offer incentives to developers/landowners if they agree to restrict rents or prices to be affordable,” he wrote.

“So, for example, if a developer of a new residential project agrees to restrict some units for affordable housing, the City is required to offer an incentive such as a deviation from a City zoning standard.  That might be a higher density than is otherwise allowable, or an allowance to build on a bit more of the lot than would normally be allowed.  Since Governor Brown took away redevelopment funding, City’s have not been able to offer monetary support for affordable housing because there is no revenue for that,” he wrote.

The definition of “affordability” varies by county.

The latest RHNA, according to Johnson’s report, breaks down the allotted units by income group. (The numbers of units and income figures were pulled from different pages of the report. According to John-son’s report, the income figures are based on the median income for a four-person family in Orange County.)

• 258 residential units for very low income (a maximum of $64,050 a year)

• 201 for low income (maximum $102,450)

• 239 for moderate income (maximum $123,600)

• 545 for above moderate income (more than $123,600)

According to Johnson, cities don’t get penalized if actual construction does not produce the number of units called for in the RHNA allocation.

But cities could be required to streamline the approval process for housing developments that qualify, according to Johnson.