State rejects Oakland’s housing element 

City could lose pro-housing designation and control over local zoning

Politics, Development, housing element, builder’s remedy
Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao (Getty)

The State of California has rejected Oakland’s housing element, and now the city opens itself up to penalties including loss of local zoning control and removal of its pro-housing designation. 

Oakland’s City Council approved the second draft written by the Planning Commission on Jan. 31, the deadline for compliance with a state mandate. One of the primary reasons the state cited in not certifying the draft was that Oakland did not suitably identify vacant sites and occupied sites that are “realistic and demonstrated potential” for redevelopment into housing during the eight-year cycle covered by the element. 

“The housing element must demonstrate existing uses are not an impediment to additional residential development and will likely discontinue in the planning period,” the state Housing and Community Development Department wrote. 

In the next draft, Oakland must identify specific actions the city will need to take to redevelop sites to meet the state’s timeline.

The state also said Oakland needs to identify clearer goals regarding geographic and numerical targets, and set a five-year plan to determine how many houses can be constructed by income group.

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Without a compliant housing element, Oakland loses its pro-housing designation from the state. The declaration gives cities preference in competition for grants on issues such as housing and infrastructure. It also qualifies cities for funding available through the Pro-Housing Incentive Pilot Program, the launch of which was announced by the HCD on Dec. 15. The program will make $25.7 million in funding available specifically to cities that have secured pro-housing status.

Noncompliance also makes the city vulnerable to loss of local zoning control over housing  projects with 20 percent affordable units through a 1990s provision in a California state law called builder’s remedy.

Since Feb.1, Bay Area cities that do not have a compliant housing element opened themselves up to builder’s remedy projects filed by developers. There have been no large scale applications filed locally, but Southern California had an earlier deadline and saw multiple large development projects filed under builder’s remedy. 

WSC was the first developer to test builder’s remedy by filing plans for more than 4,000 units over 12 projects in Santa Monica. Miami-based Lennar filed to build 530 homes on a golf course in La Habra, which is the largest builder’s remedy project proposed so far in Orange County.

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