Mark Hensley

Mark Hensley

Cities across the state including Chino Hills are losing control to the State of California over housing decisions and it’s only going to get worse in the next couple of years, according to city attorney Mark Hensley.

“The unprecedented volume of housing legislation that has come out of Sacramento over the past few years is nothing like I’ve ever seen in my career,” he said. “There was a dozen housing bills in one year and the momentum is not slowing down but ramping up.”

Mr. Hensley announced the grim news during a housing workshop March 23 in which the city is grappling with where to put 3,720 housing units of which 2,202 must be built at 20 to 30 units per acre to satisfy affordable housing mandates.

“The city has no real legal remedy to challenge these numbers,” he said. “Even if the remedy existed, it is very clear that the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and legislature would come back and do things that are worse.”

Mr. Hensley said HCD has been granted unfettered powers from the legislature. “They are almost unchecked and have the ability to go to the Attorney General as we have seen in real time over the last four to five years,” he said.

Authoritative process

Mr. Hensley said cities that were trying in good faith to interpret new legislation on accessory dwelling units were treated with vindictiveness by the HCD because it did not like their interpretation.

“This is about as dour a legal view as I think I have ever expressed publicly but the situation is really quite ugly,” he said. “There is no way out of this.”

He said fines can go up to $600,000 a month for not being in compliance with the housing mandates. 

“The state will do everything in its power to get houses built with little regard to what communities want,” he said. “It’s unsettling to hear, but this is what’s going on in Sacramento so the notion that the city council has any control over this doesn’t exist,” he said.

Mayor Brian Johsz called it the ultimate loss of local control. 

He said all 500 cities in California are going through the same process. “I recommend that residents pay attention to what is happening in Ontario, Pomona and Norco that will have to build hundreds of thousands of housing units,” he said. 

Unhappy cities

Councilman Ray Marquez said of the 191 cities in the Southern California Association of Government’s (SCAG) jurisdiction, two or three are happy and the rest are not.

He serves on SCAG’s regional council board and several SCAG committees.

SCAG is a metropolitan planning organization covering six counties, including San Bernardino County.

Mr. Marquez said a delegation of SCAG cities in State Senator Josh Newman’s 29th district met with him to discuss state issues and expressed their dissatisfaction with the housing mandates.

He said Senator Newman, who represents Chino Hills in the 29th district, suggested an audit of HCD.

Councilman Marquez said the HCD mandated 1,341,827 housing units be built over the next eight years in the sixth cycle housing element schedule, compared to 400,000 in the last eight-year cycle.

“We want housing units to be allocated sensibly, not to jump over 200 percent from one cycle to the next,” Mr. Marquez said.

Community development director Joann Lombardo said she had no idea the state was going to impose such a large number. “I don’t think any city did,” she said. “It has been a shock and a jolt to many communities.”

“As the city attorney mentioned, it’s very bizarre because we have these threats in writing,” she said. “For example, if we don’t build enough units, a developer can claim rights to build housing on sites not designated by the city for housing,” Ms. Lombardo said. “What does that look like? Does the city lose all land authority? It’s a very unsettling process.”

Nine locations

Senior planner Michael Hofflinger announced that the city is now considering nine sites for high-density housing, down from the original 27-plus sites, and gave specifics about the number of units.

•Shoppes II, 460 units on eight acres in the unused parking lot on City Center Drive, adjacent to the Chino Valley Fire District building.

•Overflow parking lot, 50 units on the 2-acre site on Eucalyptus Avenue/Peyton Drive, across the street from Community Park.

•Los Serranos Golf Course, 532 units on 21 acres on the south course closest to Pipeline Avenue.

•Western Hills Golf Course, 156 units on 8 acres on Carbon Canyon Road between Fairway Drive and Canon Lane.

•Caballero Ranch, up to 180 units on a 9-acre site on the west side of Peyton Drive, south of Eucalyptus Avenue.

•The Shoppes at Chino Hills, up to 151 units, acres to be determined 

•The Commons, up to 300 units on nine acres at the shopping center site on the southeast corner of Chino Hills Parkway and Ramona

•Crossroads Marketplace, up to 370 on 12 acres at Peyton Drive and the 71 Freeway.

•Wang property, an undetermined number of units on a portion of a 177-acre site on Woodview Road, pending discussions with the property owner.

The council wanted assurance that the city still had the ability to regulate height restrictions, setbacks, parking and other factors as each project came before the planning commission and city council, but Mr. Hensley was not so quick to give that assurance.

“I caution the council and the public that the state is stripping away rights such as setting height limitations and setbacks,” he said. “The way Sacramento is going about this, in a year or two these processes may not exist. What they are doing is so painfully clear. It’s like a snowball going down the hill.”

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