California Attorney General asserts Elk Grove's rejection of Oak Rose supportive housing project broke fair housing laws

In a rebuke of the city of Elk Grove today, the California Attorney General's office asserted that last summer's rejection of the Oak Rose apartment complex violated state laws, including California Senate Bill 35 (SB 35), the Housing Accountability Act (HAA), and fair housing laws intended to prohibit discriminatory land use practices. 

The Elk Grove City Council unanimously rejected that project at their July 27, 2022, meeting. The project developers sought to develop a 67-unit Oak rose apartment complex that would offer supportive social services for individuals transitioning out of homelessness.

The city council justified its decision by saying the project's location on Elk Grove Boulevard was exempt from state law and SB35 because it conflicted with the city's Elk Grove Old Town Special Planning Area that banned residential units on the first floor of the project.

Additionally, Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen and her city council bowed to political pressure from residents in the Old Town area. Many residents spoke at the city council meeting and the planning commission meeting that preceded it and expressed fear about the individuals who might reside at the complex. 

In a press release today, Attorney General Rob Bonta said the decision was illegal and the city should reconsider its denial. Additionally, Bonta threatened legal action against the city.

"Confronting and addressing our state's housing crisis requires all of us – including local governments – working together to increase affordable housing opportunities for those who need it most," Attorney General Rob Bonta said in the press release. "Too many Californians across this state worry about keeping a roof over their heads, or lack housing altogether. State housing laws are in place to provide all Californians, regardless of income level, the opportunity to access affordable housing and have a place to call home. We're committed to enforcing the law, and we will not stand idly by in the face of housing discrimination. I urge Elk Grove to reconsider its unlawful denial of the Oak Rose Apartment project or face the legal consequences."    

After last summer's denial, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) issued a Notice of Violation, warning the city that the rejection of the low-income housing project violated state housing laws, including SB 35. Elk Grove responded in November, arguing the SPA exempts the city from SB 35 requirement. 

The press release also noted the city's seemingly conflicting standards for two Old Town SPA projects. It highlighted that while the city said the first-floor living units in the Oak Rose project did not conform to the SPA, the municipality approved the Elk Grove Railroad Courtyards Project, which allowed first-floor residential units. 

The press release said, "The city found that Railroad Courtyards was consistent with planning standards and completely avoided any discussion of the same use restrictions that it cited in the Oak Rose Project as a reason to deny the project, evidencing discriminatory intent. Second, with the Oak Rose project, the city adopted a strict interpretation of the use restriction, claiming it is an outright prohibition of ground floor residential units, which disproportionately affects low-income persons."

In response to the attorney general's letter, the city issued a statement highlighting affordable projects Elk Grove has endeavored and its commitment to fair housing. Mayor Bobbie Singh Allen also pushed back on the attorney general's assessment. 

"We reject the notion that Elk Grove is engaged in unlawful discrimination," Singh-Allen said in the statement. 

The city's statement also asserted the applicant for the Oak Rose project, Long Beach-based Excelerate Housing Group, has not responded to overtures to find an alternate site in Elk Grove.  

Interestingly, three of the city council members at the time of the denial were on the November ballot. Those council members included Stephanie Nguyen, who successfully ran for California State Assembly, Pat Hume, who won his seat on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, and Singh-Allen was reelected mayor. 

Nguyen and Hume were in tight races, and their rejection of the project may have helped their campaigns with Elk Grove City Council District 2 voters. 

Given California's ongoing housing crisis, the state government has increasingly scrutinized local land-use decisions related to SB 35 and affordable housing in general. The attorney general's office recently sued the southern California City of Huntington Beach for violating affordable housing rules. 

The letter received by Singh-Allen concluded by saying, "We urge the city to reconsider the project in light of the HCD's legal analysis set forth in this letter. If the City does not make efforts to remediate its actions within 30 days, this Office is ready to enforce California's laws in court."

The letter can be viewed here.   

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Randy Bekker said...

If the applicant is unwilling to at least a conversation to come up with a compromise location that may benefit their for profit project and now the State A.G. has inflicted his political muscle maybe it is worth going to court. The city has been proactive in identifying other properties that are best suited. The city of Elk Grove has assisted with monies on affordable housing projects, bought transitional housing, has over 1000 affordable apts. in the pipeline, we just passed measure E which will help with other homeless (affordable housing) projects. Oak Rose apts. is a for profit business that will get a list of applicants from the county that may not help our city homeless population. Therefore it would be outside the city which would be county residents that the proposed site is in violation of the OTSPA. If Bonta wants to inflect his political muscle wouldn’t it be best to find a better solution instead of not understanding or knowing all the facts and threatening a court action. There is a compromise to be had here, an easy solution. But if not let’s roll our sleeves up and go to court.

D.J. Blutarsky said...

Makes me wonder why the City even has a City Attorney? Combine a lack of City Council's political courage to stand up to NIMBYs with an attorney who dares you to sue the deep pockets of the City, and you have a recipe for more State Attorney General reprimands that make Elk Grove look like hick town fools!

Given their track record, I suppose the City Council denial of the Oak Rose project was to be expected. Recall other past examples of City Council tails being wagged by special interest groups, such as the little swimmer kids who packed the Chambers to push for a soon-to-be boondoggle Aquatic Center at District56; the animal lovers who got the City to float a bond (with City Hall used as collateral) for the Hilton Animal Shelter; and who can forget about the soccer kids who packed the Chambers to support an overly priced soccer field purchase in hopes of attracting a major league soccer team. 

Given his track record, the City Attorney's green lighting of the Oak Rose apartment project was inevitable too. State Attorney General Bonta need only to look at past examples such as the unlawful decision to steer a contract towards Elk Grove Ford and snub the low bidder Downtown Ford; the $450,000 taxpayer giveaway in a flawed written contract for a feasibility study of District56; the last-minute backdown of an illegal marijauna moratorium extension; and who can forget the day Zeus, the German Shepherd tumbled out of a cardboard box in the parking lot of the Hilton Animal Shelter, which is still being fought in the courts.  

That whirring sound you hear in the distance is the sound of the City spin doctors spitting out a Bonta response letter and more blank settlement checks being printed from the dot matrix printer!

Renegade said...

DJ is right on on every point he made. The city leaders and the city attorney believe they live in a vacuum; that they can do whatever they want within their city boundaries. No so much. Discrimination is ugly but here we are. We need to help our fellow man, not push him down the road. I saw this coming as soon as the council denied the project.

Neo Elk Grove said...

As usual, the city manager, city attorney, under the instruction of the mayor and city council are playing checkers. Meanwhile, the state and the project proponents are playing Three-dimensional chess. At least the city attorney's pals at the downtown law firm will cash in.

Renegade said...

When will the city leaders learn that Jonathan Hobbs is a terrible city attorney? Constantly giving bad advice leading to numerous law suits that even a law student could see are lost causes. Hobbs keeps feeding huge legal fees to his former law firm at the city's and the taxpayers expense.
Find a city attorney who will handle our legal concerns in house. It shouldn't be that hard. Hobbs is making fists full of money from both sides, his huge salary and from kickbacks for referrals to his old firm to defend his poor legal taxpayer expense. It needs to stop!

Capt. Benjamin Willard said...

After reading the letter from the AG's office to Madame Mayor Singh-Allen, I am reminded of John Mitchell's remarks to the Washington Post Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein about Washington Post Publisher Katherine Graham. Mitchell famously told Bernstein if the Washington Post pursued the story, he said "Katie Graham's gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that's ever published."

If Ms. Singh-Allen and the city council don't respond to the Attorney General's satisfaction, you know what will be caught in a "big fat wringer."

Eye on Elk Grove said...

Just like former Elk Grove City Attorney Susan Burns-Cochran before him, Jon Hobbs will most likely take the fall on this one so that Mayor BSA can blame it on, as history tells us, "poor advice from the city attorney." Mayor BSA won't be able to charm AG Rob Bonta out of "another fine mess."

The only "out" Hobbs might have is when the local sportscaster, turned head hunter, was seeking "qualified" candidates to replace Cochran, no attorney with any merit would touch Elk Grove.

Kearney Zzyzwicz said...

Whatever happens, I have my popcorn ready!

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