A community group filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging a Los Angeles policy which allows members of the City Council to veto proposed affordable and homeless housing projects by withholding a simple letter of support.
The lawsuit from the nonprofit Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment comes as the city is undertaking a massive attempt to construct supportive and affordable housing through Proposition HHH, a $1.2-billion bond passed by voters in 2016, after homelessness has skyrocketed along with rising real estate prices.
Withholding the required Letter of Acknowledgment, or a “pocket veto,” for HHH projects is an illegal procedure that gives City Council members unbalanced power to block projects without having to cite a reason, the lawsuit states.
“The LOA policy is a clear violation of California state laws, including laws prohibiting discrimination in housing based on race or disability and laws protecting supportive and affordable housing,” said Jeffrey Bornstein, a partner at Rosen Bien Galvan and Grunfeld LLP, which is representing the plaintiffs along with Public Counsel and the Public Interest Law Project.
The pocket veto has only been used in a small number of instances for HHH projects, the Los Angeles Times reported after obtaining documents through public records requests, but according to the lawsuit, “the mere existence of the requirement deters many interested developers from even attempting to pursue supportive housing or affordable housing projects, especially in certain council districts where public hostility to such projects is well known.”
A spokesman for Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the suit.
“No other type of development in the city is subject to the same arbitrary approval by an individual council member, which is a violation of state law,” said Michael Rawson, director of the Public Interest Law Project.”