In our ongoing effort to champion affordable housing initiatives and advocate for equitable communities, we turn our attention to Yorba Linda, a city that holds a unique distinction in Orange County. Yorba Linda became the first city to gain approval for its housing element in 2021, a plan designed to create new housing opportunities within the community. Our organization, People for Housing OC, supported the city’s plan and offered our endorsement in a letter to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), encouraging its approval in order for the city to put it on the November 2022 ballot for voter approval, as required by the city’s ballot initiative Measure B. Measure B was approved by voters in June 2006 and it allows voters to decide on “major” and “high-density” land-use changes in the City. The State of California, however, requires every city to provide for “sufficient high-density” housing regardless of local land-use laws.
Unfortunately, the HCD-approved version of the city’s housing element did not pass in November 2022. The city now faces the challenge of revising its housing element in an attempt to get it approved by voters in November 2024. The city’s response to the failure of the housing element has been to form a committee of residents tasked with revising the plan in the hopes of gaining more voter support in November 2024. While community engagement is essential (and required by law), the resident-driven plan departs from the version approved by HCD.
Our chief concern is that multiple sites identified as locations for affordable housing in the HCD approved version of the housing element have been downzoned from 35 dwelling units per acre (du/acre) to 10. State law requires that sites for affordable housing have a minimum density of 30 du/acre. This reduction in allowed density makes it impossible to build housing affordable to lower income households on these sites. In the resident-driven plan, all of the housing that meets the 35 du/acre threshold has been concentrated in one area of town, Savi Ranch. In contrast to the HCD-approved plan, which proposed 199 units in the Savi Ranch area, the resident-driven plan seeks to increase it to nearly 800.
This over-concentration of affordable housing opportunity sites is not consistent with state law requiring cities to “affirmatively further fair housing” (AFFH) in their housing elements. What AFFH means is nuanced and complex, but the simple version is a city cannot relegate all the affordable housing sites in one area of town and state law requires that there be opportunity sites distributed throughout the city.
This concentration of affordable housing in a single area raises valid questions about the city’s commitment to Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) and equitable housing distribution. The delegation of leadership responsibility to a resident committee is also a point of concern, as this process and the resident-driven plan, as presented at the October 25th Planning Commission meeting, raise doubts about the representation of the interests of the Yorba Linda community as a whole.
We also have concerns about the city’s process in forming the resident committee. Were any steps taken to ensure diversity of perspectives and experiences among the committee members? Were they appointed by the City Council, and if so, what were the criteria for their selection? Most importantly, did the city consider demographic diversity when forming this committee, including diversity in ethnicity, age, political affiliation, geographic location within the city, and housing tenure (homeowners versus renters)? A comprehensive understanding of the community’s diverse needs is vital in making equitable decisions.
With these recent developments in mind, the pursuit of transparency, equity, and accountability is paramount, and the city’s commitment to executing the programs outlined in its HCD-approved housing element remains questionable. In a time where affordable housing is an urgent need, ensuring a transparent and equitable housing element that is inclusive and serves the needs and interests of the entire community of Yorba Linda is essential. We remain committed to these values and hope that Yorba Linda and other communities embrace them for the benefit of all members of the community.