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Meyers Nave Achieves Major Appellate Court Victory for the San Diego Association of Governments Protecting Housing Allocation Process From Judicial Review

The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (“RHNA”) statutory process enacted by the State Legislature is one of the critical tools needed to address the severe housing crisis facing California. Taking note of both prior precedent and the current historic pressure on housing stock, on June 20, 2022, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District issued its published decision holding that the RHNA allocation process for new housing units is immune from judicial review.

The case involves a writ action brought by four cities in the San Diego region challenging their share of new housing units allotted to them under the most recent RHNA cycle. The cities brought suit against Meyers Nave client, the San Diego Association of Governments (“SANDAG”), demanding a new hearing and a do over of the final RHNA allocation numbers for the entire region. In rejecting the cities appeal, the Court explained that the RHNA program is immune from judicial review by legislative design so as to prevent gridlock and delay in the housing allocation process. The case is City of Coronado et al. v. SANDAG, Case No. D079013, and the ruling can be found here.

The new City of Coronado decision draws heavily from a prior appellate court decision in City of Irvine v. Southern California Assn. of Governments, which rejected a challenge to the RHNA allocation process for the Southern California region based on lack of jurisdiction.

The City of Irvine opinion explains that the administrative process established under the RHNA statute to calculate a local government’s allocation of housing units is intended to be the exclusive remedy for a municipality to challenge the allocation thereby precluding judicial review of the decision.

The City of Irvine Court found that the length and intricacy of the process created to determine a municipality’s RHNA allocation reflects a clear intent on the part of the legislature to render the process immune from judicial intervention. Moreover, the City of Irvine ruling highlighted that allowing judicial review would delay the housing allocation for an entire region and essentially bottleneck the process and create gridlock while a particular city’s case winds its way through the courts.

In City of Coronado, the cities attempted to distinguish their case from City of Irvine based on an argument that their challenge was procedural in nature rather than a substantive challenge to the RHNA allocation and thus was not immune from judicial review. The City of Coronado Court rejected this position explaining that such a distinction only appeared in the cities’ briefing and that neither the City of Irvine opinion nor the RHNA statutory framework itself made such a distinction.

The City of Coronado opinion again reiterated that the same reasoning enumerated in City of Irvine applies with equal force here—namely allowing judicial review would create gridlock and delay the housing allocation for an entire region, bottlenecking the much needed process to increase housing stock throughout the state. The detailed nature of the recent ruling in City of Coronado, its extensive discussion and reliance on the prior City of Irvine opinion and the fact that the ruling is a published decision, all highlight that the courts are highly deferential to the RHNA legislative programs designed to help alleviate the ongoing housing crunch.

The Meyers Nave team representing SANDAG included Deborah J. Fox, Amrit S. Kulkarni and Margaret W. Rosequist.