Attorney General Rob Bonta pushes back, rejects Elk Grove's claims Oak Rose settlement makes fair housing lawsuit moot

A legal filing by the California Attorney General's office in the case of the State of California v. City of Elk Grove pushed back on claims the State of California's fair housing lawsuit is moot after Elk Grove paid about $10 million (including legal fees) to the developers of the Oak Rose supportive housing project.

The July 2 filing is the state's response to arguments made on behalf of the city that because there is a tentative settlement with Long Beach, Calif.-based Excelerate Housing Group's Oak Rose project, the lawsuit is moot. A handful of vocal opponents opposed that supportive affordable housing project in the Old Town Special Planning Area (OTSPA) and convinced Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen to reject it. 

After Attorney General Rob Bonta sued the city and embarrassed Singh-Allen, the city paid EHG $10 million to relocate the project within the city. Under the guidance of Singh-Allen and Elk Grove city attorney Jonathan Hobbs, the city's outside counsel argued the lawsuit should be dismissed.

The attorney general's response rejected that argument in their 20-page filing. Even though the relocated and larger project is tentatively planned for Elk Grove-Florin Road in City Council District 3 and called Coral Blossom, the attorney general's office argues:

"This Court may still enforce the Housing Accountability Act (HAA), which recognizes remedies beyond mere action on one housing development. To that end, the Court may still find that the City unlawfully applied a nonobjective standard to deny the Project, and it may - among other corrective remedies - compel the City to take action to prevent the application of that standard to future projects. The HAA allows for broad, forward-looking relief, and the Court may fashion whatever corrective
remedy it deems appropriate to prevent the recurrence of practices found to violate the HAA."

Much of the state's argument hinges on the city's justification for rejecting the housing project in July 2022. Singh-Allen and the city argued the project did not meet the OTSPA standards because it had ground-floor housing units.

However, the state emphasized the city approved another market-rate apartment development that has ground-floor housing units that did not meet OTSPA standards. Yet they applied a subjective standard to the Oak Rose project.

Their argument reads, "To construe the HAA as only providing project-specific relief would allow the City to apply the Ground Floor Requirement in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner again in the future, undermining the Legislature’s objectives in adopting the HAA."

Addtionally, it is argued:

"In summary, the City makes no effort to dispute that the Ground Floor Requirement applies
at the selective discretion of a public official, in violation of the HAA’s objectivity requirement.
The record even shows that the OTSPA Standards permit ground-floor residences, and thus
substantial record evidence exists to allow a reasonable person to conclude that the Project
satisfied the relevant planning criteria under the OTSPA Standards. The City wants to be allowed
to take a flexible and subjective approach in advancing projects that it likes, while applying strict
and ad hoc constructions of its own policies to disapprove projects that it opposes. The HAA does
not allow for such an approach."

The pleading concluded by saying, "The People respectfully request that this Court find that the City violated SB 35 and the HAA when it denied the Project, and issue all appropriate remedies to prevent the recurrence of future violations on the same grounds." 

The matter will be heard by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Stephen Acquisto on Tuesday, July 19.

The attorney general's filing can be viewed here

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Juan Trippe said...

Doesn't sound like this will help out the Coral Blossom opponents. Possibly the city will have a big fat fine. That's OK with Mayor Bobbie 'cause its not her money to pay the fine.

Steve L said...

I’m afraid City of EG will suffer the wrath of the AGs Office by the time this is all resolved. Who’s to blame for so much $$$ wasted on a lost cause? The City Council and City Attorney. They picked a battle they couldn’t win to save face with a few NIMBY homeowners to the detriment of every taxpayer in this city. Remember the cost come November!

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