Fourth District Court of Appeal Holds a City May Adopt Revisions to Its Housing Element That Create Inconsistencies With the General Plan If the City Also Adopts a Timeline for Proposed Changes to the General Plan That Correct Those Inconsistencies

On November 1, 2012, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Friends of Aviara v. City of Carlsbad (2012) __ Cal.App.4th __ (Case No. D060167), affirmed the trial court’s judgment directing the city to adopt a timeline for proposed changes to its general plan that would correct inconsistencies created by the city’s revision of its housing element. The appellate court found that Government Code section 65583 establishes an exception to the requirement that general plans be facially consistent, as long as the municipality identifies a program with a timeline for resolving any inconsistencies arising from its adoption or revision of a housing element.

Pursuant to the Housing Element Law, the California Department of Housing determines the number and type of housing units each region of the state must provide, and regional planning bodies like the San Diego Association of Governments determine what percentage of the regional allocation individual municipalities must provide. On December 22, 2009, the city council of Carlsbad adopted proposed revisions to the housing element of its general plan to comply with Government Code section 65583. The city council also certified a mitigated negative declaration (MND) because it found the revision would not have a substantial environmental impact. The city’s housing element revisions included an assessment of housing needs and an inventory of sites which could accommodate the city’s assigned share of the region’s low cost housing needs. The adopted revision also identified several amendments to the general plan’s land use element that would be necessary to permit development of affordable housing on the specified sites at higher minimum densities than permitted in the existing version of the land use element.

Friends of Aviara challenged the city’s adoption of the housing element revision, alleging the MND violated CEQA and the revision impermissibly created inconsistency in the general plan. The trial court denied the CEQA claim, but found that the revision did create an improper conflict between the housing element and the land use element of the general plan. Consequently, the trial court issued a writ of mandate directing the city to adopt a timeline for the proposed amendments to the land use elements. Friends of Aviara appealed, contending that adopting a timeline for proposed amendments was not enough to remedy the defect in the revision and that the trial court should have required the city to rescind its adoption of the revision.

The appellate court’s analysis focused on Government Code section 65583, subdivision (c)(7), which requires a housing element to include “an identification of the agencies and officials responsible for the implementation of the various actions and the means by which consistency will be achieved with other general plan elements and community goals.” (Gov. Code, § 65583, subd. (c)(7), italics added.) The court concluded that the Legislature’s use of the future tense in the statute demonstrated a “legislative preference that municipalities promptly adopt housing plans which meet their numerical housing obligations even at the cost of creating temporary inconsistency in general plans.” Therefore, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held the trial court properly required the city to adopt a timeline for the proposed amendments to the general plan’s land use element and was not required to order the city to rescind its adoption of the housing element revision to remedy the resulting inconsistencies in the general plan.