June 26, 2020, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Board of Directors exercised their weighted vote option to approve the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) for 2021-2029, the die was cast. The assessment, which features a 2,000 percent increase in the required number of low income and moderately priced housing units which must be constructed in Coronado during the cycle, given existing constraints, is simply impossible for the city to attain.
In response, the Coronado City Council approved as part of the Consent Calendar for their Tuesday, July 21, 2020 meeting, the hiring of the law firm of Sloan, Sakai, Yeung and Wong, LLP, with offices in Sacramento and Berkley, as special counsel. The firm will explore Coronado’s legal options with SANDAG.
Coronado City Manager Blair King said of SANDAG’s decision regarding the RHNA allocation, “We’re concerned with a couple of things, the voting process and we’re concerned with abuse of discretion. In terms of due process, we may be looking at the precedent setting move of SANDAG to invoke a weighted vote in a quasi-judicial decision.”
When asked why the city retained a law firm in Sacramento, King said, “We want to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Many San Diego firms have worked with the cities that comprise SANDAG or with the City of San Diego. Our legal response will be coordinated by City Attorney Johanna Canlas. Sloan, Sakai, Yeung and Wong represents public agencies including the Sacramento Council of Governments. At this point we are exploring all legal options.”
The genesis of this issue starts with the State of California’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) Cycle 6 Plan, which dictates how many new, affordable homes must be built in each of the 18 cities in San Diego County and in unincorporated San Diego County. The overall concept is handed down from the California State Legislature, to the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), with the finer details decided upon at the regional level, in this case SANDAG.
A total of 19 municipalities participate in SANDAG, with routine matters normally decided by a simple majority vote. For weighted votes, a city’s population is the determinate of how many votes each member has. If the City of San Diego (42 votes) and the County of San Diego (15) votes are on the same side of an issue, the outcome is already determined. If the City of San Diego, the City of Chula Vista (eight votes) plus any one additional entity vote together, it’s over. For the final two RHNA votes, the unweighted vote was 14-5 to allow for an appeal regarding the housing allocation numbers from the cities of Coronado, Solana Beach, Imperial Beach and Lemon Grove. The weighted vote went decidedly the other direction with The City and County of San Diego, Chula Vista, Carlsbad, Encinitas, National City and Encinitas combined to deny the appeal. On the flip side of the vote, the four appellants Coronado, Solana Beach, Imperial Beach and Lemon Grove have one weighted vote each.
Specifically the Coronado housing allotment, broken into its four components, calls for the construction of 343 Very Low Income housing units; 185 Low Income housing units; 174 Moderate Income housing units and 299 Above Moderate Income housing units for a total of 1,001. In real numbers, Coronado’s housing requirement rose dramatically from the Cycle Four target of 50 new housing units, to 64 new housing unites for Cycle Five to the Cycle Six goal of 1,001 new homes. When you consider there are currently 9,740 housing units in Coronado, that would mean a 10 percent housing increase in just eight years.
To visually present their appeal to the SANDAG Board of Directors, the City of Coronado prepared a well-produced, eight-minute video that included the following points in favor of their appeal:
The City of Coronado’s footprint is shared by more than a dozen local, state, and federal jurisdictions.
Although the city encompasses 15 square miles, the land area used by SANDAG to determine Coronado’s RHNA assessment, the total area under the direct jurisdiction of the City is 2.2 square miles. Construction in nearly half of that 2.2 square miles is restricted by the San Diego International Airport’s flight zones, leaving just 1.2 square miles of contiguous land for new housing in Coronado.
The City of Solana Beach’s housing allocation increased 258 percent; the City of Lemon Grove’s allocation increased 440 percent; the City of Imperial Beach saw their allocation increase 541 percent; but all of that pales in comparison to Coronado’s 2,000 percent increase. Conversely, the County of San Diego’s allocation decreased by 70 percent; and the City of San Diego’s allocation increased a modest 22 percent.
Forty-six percent of all of Coronado’s jobs are from the active-duty military sector, while no consideration to Coronado’s required new housing allocation is given for new military housing.
No consideration was given in determination of the RHNA housing allotment for geographic considerations; regulatory constraints; economic and market factors; capacity for new housing; the unique circumstances of Coronado’s active-duty military; or the Coastal Zone building height limit of 30 feet.
Coronado currently has 181 deed-restricted affordable housing units, plus a 35-unit affordable housing project on Orange Avenue.
Missing from all of the SANDAG deliberations and votes is the element of common sense. If any of the politicians voting against Coronado’s appeal had taken 15 minutes to drive around the city, they would realize that construction of 1,001 new housing units, on 1.2 square miles, with a 30-foot height restriction, is just not possible.
“It’s interesting that the appellants were four small built-out cities,” King said of the appeals of Coronado, Solana Beach, Imperial Beach and Lemon Grove. “There is more to come and the positions of the other cities will be self-evident as we move along.”
As for SANDAG as an entity, King said, “Regional cooperation is being diminished and SANDAG is on a downward climb as a regional planning agency. Comments have been made including San Diego City Council President Georgette Gomez saying for Coronado to suck it up and build more housing. San Diego also has a 30-foot height limit along the Coast and they voted to sustain their height limit. They’re telling Coronado to build higher and they didn’t support that position in their city.”