In AIDS Healthcare Foundation v. City of Los Angeles (2022) 78 Cal.App.5th 167, the Second District Court of Appeal rejected claims challenging the City of Los Angeles’s decision to approve the development of a large mixed-use apartment building in Hollywood. The court upheld the decision of the Superior Court, finding that a 15 percent low income set-aside requirement had been voided by 2011 legislation and, even if it had not, the set-aside requirement applied only to the aggregate amount of dwelling units within a planning area, not to individual projects.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In 1986, the (now dissolved) Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles (CRA-LA) established the “Hollywood Redevelopment Plan” (HRP) in accordance with the City of Los Angeles’s (City’s) “Community Redevelopment Law” (CRL). Both the HRP and CRL included a requirement that at least 15 percent of all new and rehabilitated dwelling units within a total project area be reserved for families of “low or moderate income.” However, the local redevelopment agencies charged with preparing and executing these plans had no power to tax, and instead funded their activities using “tax increment” financing.
Under this financing scheme, public entities that were entitled to receive property tax revenue received such revenues from properties within the planning area based on their assessed value prior to the effective date of the applicable redevelopment plan. Any tax revenue received in excess of that amount was a “tax increment.” However, in 2011, the Legislature enacted the “Dissolution Law,” which dissolved redevelopment agencies and repealed any provisions of the CRL that depended upon tax increment financing. “Successor agencies” acquired the former redevelopment agencies’ “housing functions and assets,” but were to have no “legal authority to participate in redevelopment activities, except to complete any work related to an approved enforceable obligation.”
In January 2019, the City’s Advisory Agency approved a tentative tract map for a 26-story mixed-use building on a 0.89-acre plot within the HRP planning area (developed by 6400 Sunset, LLC, the real party in interest). The project involves approximately 200 dwelling units, of which 5 percent will be reserved for “very low income households.” Coalition to Preserve LA (CPLA) appealed the Advisory Agency’s approval to the City Planning Commission, arguing that a reservation of only 5 percent of units for affordable housing would violate the CRL/HRP requirement of 15 percent. The Planning Commission denied CPLA’s appeal in March 2019. CPLA’s appeal of that decision, to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, was also denied in June 2019.
In July 2019, CPLA (joined by AIDS Healthcare Foundation) filed a petition for writ of mandate. The superior court denied the petition on the grounds that the pertinent provisions of the CRL had been repealed and, even under the CRL’s language, the 15 percent requirement “need not be imposed on each individual project,” but only to buildings within the planning area “in the aggregate.” CPLA and AIDS Healthcare Foundation timely appealed.
THE COURT OF APPEAL’S DECISION
The Court of Appeal agreed with the superior court on both counts, holding that the Dissolution Law had effectively repealed the 15 percent requirement and that, even if it had not, the requirement applied to the number of dwelling units within the CRL planning area as a whole—not individual projects.
Under the Dissolution Law, “all provisions of the [CRL] that depend on the allocation of tax increment to redevelopment agencies . . . shall be inoperative.” The court agreed that because enforcement of the 15 percent requirement depended upon redevelopment agencies, and redevelopment agencies in turn depended upon the funds supplied by the tax increment, this requirement was also rendered inoperative. The appellants countered that redevelopment agencies could raise funds by issuing bonds, but the court reasoned that “bonds . . . have to be repaid, and the former agencies repaid the bonds, generally, from the same source of funds used to pay other obligations—from the tax increment.”
The appellants also argued that the 15 percent requirement was an “enforceable obligation” under the Dissolution Law, which the successor agency (here, the City) was required to perform. The court, however, found that such obligations related only to “monetary and existing contractual obligations,” not to statutory affordable housing requirements. The appellants countered that the City, as the former CRA-LA’s successor agency, is not limited to the statutory powers enumerated under the CRL and, therefore, the 15 percent requirement could be enforced under the City’s “inherent police power.” The court remained unpersuaded. Even assuming that the City is CRA-LA’s successor agency, the Dissolution Law did not grant the successor any powers that the former redevelopment agency did not have (such as general police powers).
The court also rejected appellants’ argument that, even if the Dissolution Law rendered the CRL’s 15 percent requirement inoperative, the HRP’s own 15 percent requirement remained intact. According to the court, the HRP and its powers applied only to CRA-LA (not the City), and that agency was dissolved by the Dissolution Law.
Finally, beyond the nullifying effects of the Dissolution Law, the court held that under the plain language of both the CRL and HRP, the 15 percent requirement would apply only “in the aggregate,” and “not to each individual case of rehabilitation, development, or construction of dwelling units, unless an agency determines otherwise.” Because CRA-LA never determined otherwise, individual projects were not subject to a strict 15 percent minimum.