Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas was among a group of Southern California mayors who met with Gov. Gavin Newsom Tuesday for a roundtable discussion about what Newsom called the state’s growing housing-affordability crisis.

The meeting was the first of what Newsom described in his State of the State address as “a candid conversation” that he hopes to repeat with other municipal and local leaders across the state. Tuesday’s gathering at Long Beach City College included mayors of cities whose housing plans are considered by the governor’s office to be out of compliance with state law.

“There are 47 communities or jurisdictions that are quote-unquote out of compliance, and I wanted to get a better understanding of why they’re not in compliance with our quote-unquote housing goals,” Newsom said. “We met with a sample of those communities and we heard honest, forthright explanations as to why it’s difficult and why they need support. … And my commitment is to provide support.”

Desert Hot Springs was out of compliance with state regulations due to a financial crisis in 2012, Matas said after the meeting.

“In 2017, we as a city council, decided it was important to get in compliance with the housing element and the general plan, and we’ve been working towards that. We’re about 80 percent there,” Matas told City News Service. “The new governor was elected and was very clear that he wanted to get some big housing numbers over his term in the next four years. He’s made it very clear that cities that aren’t in compliance are going to be helped or made to be in compliance.

“It’s tough for us too because we have to have a housing element that has affordable housing when most of our city is affordable and low-income housing,” Matas said. “It’s a bigger discussion that was important to have today with the governor.”

Matas also said that due to low margins on real estate in Desert Hot Springs, developers do not have an incentive to build. State money could be used to incentivize developers similar to programs bolstered by money from the federal government, Matas added.

Newsom included $250 million in his proposed state budget for cities and counties to update their housing plans and revamp their zoning process and an additional $500 million in grants when they achieve those milestones.

“If we want a California for All, we have to build housing for all,” Newsom said last week in his State of the State address. “I want to support local governments that do what’s right, like Anaheim and Santa Rosa. But there must be accountability for those that don’t.”

The state sued Huntington Beach last month, accusing it of blocking the production of affordable housing.

Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates said the city has been “complying with all applicable state housing and zoning laws and has been, and will continue to, work with the California Department of Housing and Community Development regarding meeting the city’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment.”

Huntington Beach was the first city to be sued because of a statute of limitations, Newsom said in the State of the State address.

“We started this process off aggressively. I’m not naive about that,” the governor said Tuesday. “We sued the city of Huntington Beach. We did so because they were out of compliance. We as a state have been working with them for some time. They continue to be out of compliance. I don’t want to sue 47 other cities. Quite the contrary, I want to work collaboratively with all of the representatives in those communities, and I want to understand the challenges and struggles they face as only they can express directly.”

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