Elk Grove City Council defers decision on Oak Rose project until October 11 after hearing vocal opposition

Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen expressing indigation for the applicants of the Oak Rose skipping the hearing on their project in Old Town Elk Grove. | 

Faced with the political weight of angry District 2 residents, tonight the Elk Grove City Council decided not to follow the legal advice offered by the city attorney and deferred their decisions on the Oak Rose Project until their October 11 meeting.

The decision came after hearing over three dozen residents who primarily spoke against the project. The staff had recommended the city council approve the plan and avoid costly litigation.

The city council unanimously rejected the 67-unit District 2 Elk Grove Boulevard project in July 2022. Following that, the Oak Rose L.P. filed a suit against the city last October, followed by California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who alleged the city violated fair housing laws.

A staff presentation by planning manager Antonio Abalog noted the project should be approved based on the cost of the lawsuit and the advice of city attorney Jonathan Hobbs. Following Abalog's presentation, the applicant was invited to speak, but Hobbs noted they were not attending the meeting.

Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen expressed indignation, saying, "This is disrespectful." 

Before the city council's deliberation, the city council heard public comments. Most of the speakers opposed the project with far-reaching comments and concerns.

Several people expressed the common idea that the supportive housing project was in an improper location, its residents would threaten children and senior citizens, and bring more crime to the Old Town special planning area. Many urged the city council to fight the state to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

Other opponents lobbed insults at Bonta and Newsom. One person called Bonta a punk, while another claimed Bonta was an instrument of George Soros, a favorite conspiracy theorist and anti-Semitic trope. 

A few speakers supported the project. Among them was Bill Myers, who has long been involved in helping people experiencing homelessness through Elk Grove faith organizations.

Addressing many claims, Meyers said supportive housing residents are typically long-term and were not accurately portrayed by the project opponents.

"People need to get closer to the facts," Myers noted. 

Opening deliberations was District 2 City Councilmember Rob Brewer, who noted a current bill, Senate Bill 423, is on the governor's desk. If approved, the tenets of Senate Bill 35, which helped pave the way for the Oak Rose project and made the city vulnerable to the fair housing lawsuits, would make local planning even more difficult by extending its authority until 2036.

"I'm with you every step of the way," Brewer told the audience. Brewer said he too was insulted by the absense of the project proponents.  

"They are in it for the money," Brewer added. 

Councilmember Sergio Robles asked attorney Hobbs the estimated costs if the city defended the lawsuit. Hobbs said it would be "mid to high six-figures" and double or triple if the city loses and is obliged to pay opponents legal fees. 

Addressing the comment urging the city to fight, Councilmember Darren Suen said if they lost the litigation, it might lose its land use and zoning authority and eligibility for various state grants.  

"There is greater risk than just his project," he added.  

After expressing frustration with the process, state legislators who put roadblocks in front of local land use decisions (Suen is employed as California Assemblymember Stephanie Nguyen's [D - Elk Grove] chief of staff), and the state land planning dictates, Suen seemed to convince himself to not follow Hobbs' recommentation.   

"I'm willing to fight this a little more, so I can't support this," Suen said. "I can't do it."  

In his commentary, Vice Mayor Kevin Spease said he understood residents' concerns. Spease then mimicked a pharmaceutical commercial and repeatedly said, "Senate Bill 35 doesn't care." 

Spease said law enforcement will have to mitigate the effects of the housing project, like abandoned cars on Elk Grove Boulevard. After expressing many thoughts and claiming he had lost sleep over the project, he suggested continuing the item until another city council meeting. 

After making a lengthy statement, Ms. Singh-Allen said the city had repeatedly presented counter-offers to the Oak Rose project proponents and the state of California but failed in their efforts. One of the proposals mentioned, which included an unspecified incentive, was to locate the project on a vacant parcel near Elk Grove-Florin and Calvine roads. 

Toward the end of the deliberations, Hobbs said the item would need to be scheduled for the October 11 meeting. While the city council said they would try to have the project applicants appear at the October 11 meeting, they are under no legal obligation.

With the deferral, the Oak Rose opponents have two more weeks to muster opposition to the controversial project and the city council more time to sweeten their incentive offers. 

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D.J. Blutarsky said...

Cutting through the smoke and mirrors laid out by the City:

1. Why didn't the City's Economic Development Department know that the project site was listed on the market for sale for what I've been told was a couple years (particularly since the City had eyes on the abutting Rite-Aid building as a library)?

2. Oak Rose purchased the property outright and submitted the project application which they claim is in accordance with SB35. The City Council disagrees and refuses to grant permits for the project. Two lawsuits are filed against the City--Oak Rose and the State Attorney General.

3. With their public relations image backed up against the wall and the Old Town constituents applying political pressure, the City issues press releases touting their track record of approving affordable housing and willingness to purchase an alternative site for Oak Rose.

4. The City Attorney contracts with outside law firms (Best, Best & Krieger; Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard) to assist in lawsuit defense. Several months later, the City Attorney recommended that the City approve Oak Rose project.

5. The City Council chastises Oak Rose for not attending the new hearing and for not accepting alternative site location offers. City Council bashes SB35, the attorney general, and essentially, the state Democratic leadership.

6. The City Council cites the lobbying group, League of California Cities, as an example opposing SB35 and loss of local zoning control. However, the League of Cities has known for over 40 years that the State Legislature formally declared a housing crisis in the state and expected cities to provide adequate housing for all income groups. The State's legal action against the City should not come as a surprise to anyone who has tracked the inability or unwillingness of cities throughout the state to address the issue.

7. The Mayor said this whole thing "smells like politics". Your point?

Renegade said...

Why would the applicant show up? To be verbally attacked, spit on, their cars keyed? They have all the leverage, the state is ready to fund a lawsuit of their behalf. They have nothing to gain by showing up. They would have just riled up the citizens who were ready for a fight. They understood the city was ready to acquiesce to their project. Putting it off for two weeks will only put off the inevitable. I'd be surprised if they showed up despite the "golden" invitation of VM Spease. SB 35 is poorly drafted and implemented, granted. The intent while noble, puts municipalities in tough positions. As a result communities like us and Huntington Beach bear the result. However, the potential cost of litigation, $7M if we lose, is too much to risk. We'll be essentially funding both sides of the suit, the state (funded by our tax $) and the city (funded by our tax $). We're chasing our tail. Fact is: This city and our city council(s) all the way back to incorporation have ignored the concept of affordable housing. They have dealt with it only when forced. Result: Last night's circus.

Atticus Finch said...

This council's performance and lack of any modicum of principles or integrity is consistent with its history. It's been known to make tough decisions out of the public eye, behind closed doors (at times skirting with Brown Act violations) Only when residents galvanize their opposition and it senses public resistance or disapproval on controversial projects, will it frequently reverse course (i.e. CNU hospital)

Suen said, ""I'm willing to fight this a little more, so I can't support this." Translation-I'll go along with the current prevailing opinion in the room.
Remember how we got here. It took two lawsuits against the City in order for it to reconsider it's decision on the Oak Rose project. I think District 2 residents should foot the City's legal bills on this since they believe so strongly in their property values.
Those opposed to this supportive housing project have unfairly and unsurprisingly painted the unhoused with a broad brush as criminals. Being homeless is tantamount to being a criminal according to these residents.
Apparently, we are only compassionate when it doesn't conflict with our personal, financial interests.

Capt. Benjamin Willard said...

It is unclear what the two weeks gives the city council. The city council could, as suggested in the story, "sweeten" the offer and incentives to the Oak Rose people and try to make them disappear. What would this cost taxpayers?

But what about the fair housing lawsuits by the AG and the Governor? Will those suddenly disappear as well? Probably not.

It was a typical act of cowardice as we have repeatedly seen from our council members - Kowtow to the worst elements in the community out of fear they might not be reelected.

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