State prevails in fair housing lawsuit, Fullerton agrees to build thousands of affordable housing units

Today, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the city of Fullerton reached a settlement in a fair housing lawsuit brought against the Orange County municipality. Fullerton was sued by Newsom, Bonta and the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for failure to comply to state housing laws. 

The terms of the settlement dictate Fullerton will adopt a plan to allow for the development of 13,209 housing units, of which 5,187 will be low- or very low-income.

“Fullerton has committed to stop litigating and start building. California is facing a housing crisis, and the status quo is simply unacceptable," Newsom said in today's announcement. "More communities must step up and do the right thing by building their fair share of housing or be held accountable.”

State law requires every city and county to periodically update its housing plan to meet its share of regional and statewide housing needs. Fullerton failed to adopt a housing plan on time and then took no action after it received a letter from HCD, finding that its draft did not substantially comply with the Housing Element Law.

“California’s Housing Element Law is an essential tool in our fight to equitably address our housing shortage, and local governments must follow the law and do their part,” Bonta said in the settlement announcement. “I applaud the Fullerton City Council and its planning and legal team for recognizing that public resources should be directed at collaborating, rather than further litigating, our way out of California’s housing crisis."

Before the lawsuit was filed, HCD representatives repeatedly met with the city. However, due to the lack of compliance, it was referred to the California Attorney General’s Office for enforcement. 

Terms of the settlement include the following:

  • Fullerton will adopt a compliant housing element by no later than November 5, 2024.
  • Fullerton must modernize its zoning code by December 29, 2024.
  • Fullerton agrees to comply with the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing statute (AFFH) to foster a more inclusive community. 
  • Fullerton acknowledges that, until the time it adopts a substantially compliant housing element, it will not deny housing projects on the basis of zoning or general plan inconsistencies.

  • Newsom and Bonta's announcement also included an ominous warning for Fullerton and other cities that do not comply with deadlines. The announcement said, "If Fullerton fails to abide by the settlement and does not cure its default, it may lose its authority to approve or deny certain types of developments."

    Interestingly, the complaint against Fullerton was initiated by Californians For Homeownership, Inc.a nonprofit organization sponsored by the California Association of Realtors. Fullerton has not issued a statement on the settlement

    Elk Grove has been sued by the state for its refusal of the Oak Rose supportive housing project and its developer, Long Beach, Calif.-based Excelerate Housing. While the city has announced a "settlement in principle" with Excelerate Housing, it is unclear what effect it will have on the state's fair housing lawsuit.   

    The case is Californians for Homeownership v. City of Fullerton, Orange County Superior Court Case No. 30-2022-01281840-CU-WM-CJC.  The settlement remains subject to court approval.

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