Public housing

Nonprofit CAR sues SoCal cities for seeking access to public housing policy records

For release:
April 12, 202

A housing group is suing South Pasadena and Irvine to protect the public’s right of access to public housing policy records.

LOS ANGELES (April 12) – Californians for Homeownership, a nonprofit organization sponsored by the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REAL ESTATE AGENTS® (AUTO)which aims to address California’s housing crisis through impact litigation, announced today that it has filed lawsuits against two Southern California cities under California’s public records law. The lawsuits seek documents about local housing policy after the organization’s requests for documents were denied by the cities of South Pasadena and Irvine.

“Public transparency is critically important in all areas of public decision-making, but especially in the development of sound housing policy,” said CAR President Otto Catrina. “California is in the midst of a housing crisis of historic proportions, and it has never been more important for the public to understand how their cities and counties make decisions that impact housing access for families. at all income levels.These lawsuits will help ensure public access to this important information.

The lawsuit against South Pasadena concerns the development of its “housing component,” a state-mandated plan to meet housing needs in the city. Each housing element is required to identify sites where housing is likely to be developed over the next eight years. But South Pasadena has received widespread criticism for its draft site listing, which includes sites that are unlikely to ever be redeveloped with housing.

Californians for Homeownership began investigating the city’s housing element development in 2020 and sent the city several public records requests as part of that investigation. The city produced responsive briefs, but withheld most of them, saying the public interest is best served by keeping the city’s internal process for developing its housing element secret. These registries are vitally important to allow residents, non-profits, and the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to assess the city’s list of sites with the same information the city has. on the sites she listed.

The organization is currently considering another lawsuit against the City of South Pasadena for its failure to adopt its housing element by the state-imposed deadline of October 2021.

The lawsuit against Irvine concerns the city’s policies governing secondary suites, or ADUs. ADUs, often referred to as “in-law units” or “grandmother’s apartments”, are additional units usually built next to single-family homes, in existing residential neighborhoods. Under state laws passed in recent years, almost all California homeowners have the right to develop an ADU next to their primary residence. Although widely popular with landlords, these ADU laws were met with opposition from some local government officials, including Irvine.

The city originally planned to pass a local ordinance that would have restricted ADUs in defiance of state law, but backed down after Californians for Homeownership threatened legal action and HCD told the city ​​that its proposed order was invalid. Without a local ordinance, Irvine is required to enforce the permissive standards of state law for ADUs.

“Instead, we learned that city staff had developed a secret internal memo that they were using to enforce higher and illegal standards at ADUs,” said Matthew Gelfand, the association’s in-house attorney. non-profit. In response to a request for public records, the city released the memo itself, but withheld documents about its development and whether it was cleared by city decision makers.

Both cases involve records that were improperly withheld by cities under deliberative process privilege, which applies in limited cases where a city can prove that the harms of disclosing a document outweigh the harms of disclosing a document. public interest to examine it. To withhold documents for this reason, cities must provide a detailed explanation of the harms that would result from their disclosure. “We gave these two cities multiple opportunities to explain the basis for withholding these documents, but they declined,” Gelfand said. “The truth is that the public has a very compelling interest in seeing these documents, and the cities have no valid reason to withhold them.”

The lawsuits are Californians for Homeownership vs. City of South PasadenaLos Angeles County Superior Court Case No. 22STCP01161, and Californians for Property vs. City of Irvine, Orange County Superior Court Case No. 30-2022-01253030-CU-WM-CJC. Copies of the documents are available at


Californians for Homeownership is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization sponsored by the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® devoted to the use of legal tools to solve the housing crisis in California. For too long, California cities have treated compliance with state and federal housing laws as optional. The organization seeks to change this attitude by proactively enforcing the law, in the name of the important public interest in having additional housing available for families at all income levels. Californians for Homeownership was created by the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (CAR), and it receives financial support from CAR and private donors. To make a tax-deductible charitable contribution today, visit