Attorney General Bonta, Newsom Administration Announce Settlement with City of San Bernardino for Violating State’s Housing Element Law

Tuesday, August 29, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

City of San Bernardino to Update Housing Plan to Allow 8,123 Additional Housing Units by 2029 

SACRAMENTO — California Attorney General Rob Bonta, California Governor Gavin Newsom, California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency (BCSH) Secretary Lourdes Castro Ramírez, and California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) Director Gustavo Velasquez today announced a settlement with the City of San Bernardino for violating the state’s Housing Element Law. The settlement, which is in the form of a proposed stipulated judgment and must be approved by the court, is the state's first related to California’s sixth “housing-element update cycle” for the 2021-2029 time period. 

Under the state’s Housing Element Law, every city and county in California is required to periodically update its housing plan to meet its share of the regional and statewide housing needs. The City of San Bernardino failed to adopt a compliant housing plan for the 2021-2029 time period by the October 15, 2021 statutory deadline. HCD provided direct guidance and reminders to the city — ensuring its leaders were fully apprised of their legal requirements to submit a housing element for HCD’s review. As a result of this settlement, the City of San Bernardino will now adopt a compliant housing element no later than February 7, 2024 and take other related actions. Today’s settlement also resolves separate but related claims filed by individual residents represented by the Public Interest Law Project (PILP) and Inland Counties Legal Services (ICLS).

“Our state’s Housing Element Law is in place to ensure that all cities build their fair share of housing. No city is spared from that legal obligation. It is not a choice. It is the law,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “I applaud the City of San Bernardino’s city council, and its planning and legal team, for recognizing that public resources should be directed at collaborating, rather than further litigating, our way out of California’s housing crisis. State leaders are united and committed to ensuring that every city provides more affordable housing options.”

“Cities that fail to follow the law and plan for their fair share of housing will be held accountable – the status quo will not be tolerated," said Governor Gavin Newsom. "The state is providing incentives, resources and when necessary, taking legal action to ensure that communities do their part to meet the housing needs of Californians.”

“Many essential workers — retail clerks, hospitality, workers, teachers, firefighters, and social service providers — are having a hard time renting homes in the communities where they work,” said BCSH Secretary Lourdes Castro Ramírez. “The lack of housing exacerbates residential segregation and impacts economic well-being. This is why it’s absolutely important that local jurisdictions including San Bernardino plan for and build more housing. The Governor has made it clear that failing to do so violates state law and prevents communities from thriving.”

“Our message is clear — every city and county will be held accountable to state housing laws,” said HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez. “The state is making financial resources, technical assistance, and state-owned land available to help cities and counties meet current and future housing needs. We will continue to work in partnership with the City of San Bernardino to ensure they meet all the terms agreed to in this settlement because ultimately we want to spend time building homes — not in court.”

“This settlement agreement is a major victory for the residents of San Bernardino. San Bernardino has been in desperate need of new affordable housing for many years," said ICLS attorney Anthony Kim. "Housing Element law is designed to make building affordable housing more attractive to both City planners and housing developers alike. Submitting a Housing Element that complies with California law puts San Bernardino on track to be a more attractive place to live for all residents of California.”

State law requires local governments to include housing elements in their general plans, which serve as a local government’s “blueprint” for how the city and/or county will grow and develop. A housing element must include, among other things, an assessment of housing needs, an inventory of resources and constraints relevant to meeting those needs, and a program to implement the policies, goals, and objectives of the housing element. Once the housing element is adopted, it is implemented through zoning ordinances and other actions that put its objectives into effect. The housing element is a crucial tool for building housing for moderate-, low-, and very low-income Californians and redressing historical redlining and disinvestment. 

After failing to adopt a housing element on time, HCD contacted and met with the City of San Bernardino on several occasions. Ultimately, due to the lack of compliance, HCD referred the matter to the California Attorney General’s Office for enforcement.

Under the settlement, the City of San Bernardino will:

  • Adopt a compliant housing element by no later than February 7, 2024. The housing element process is typically lengthy — for example, local governments must meet certain public participation requirements and HCD must review every local government’s housing element to determine whether it complies with state law and provides written findings back to each local government — but the City of San Bernardino has agreed to an expedited timeline without muting the public’s participation.
  • Modernize its zoning code by April 17, 2024 in order to meet the housing targets set forth in its compliant housing element.
  • Amend its emergency shelter ordinance to conform with state law. State law requires local governments to streamline the permitting process for the construction of new homeless shelters.
  • Amend its local density bonus ordinance to conform with state law. State law requires local governments to permit increased density for housing projects that contain affordable dwelling units.
  • Be subject to escalating penalties for failure to comply with the terms of the settlement, including limitations on its ability to approve zoning changes and variances, and eventually its ability to permit any development, except for residential projects containing affordable housing. 

A copy of the petition and proposed judgment, which details the settlement terms and remains subject to court approval, can be found here and here.

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