2045 General Plan Update: 10 Facts

Irvine has been working on its General Plan Update to incorporate statutory requirements that have occurred since the General Plan was last updated in 2000. The update takes into consideration changes in State law and our Housing Element which was reviewed by a previous Planning Commission and adopted by the City Council in May 2022.

On May 16, 2024, the Planning Commission heard a presentation on Irvine’s General Plan Update. The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) is assigned by the Southern California Association of Goevernments (SCAG). Irvine was assigned a RHNA allocation of 23,610 units. However, the adopted Housing Element plans for the capacity of up to 57,656 units because it includes a buffer on top of the RHNA allocation in accordance with “no net loss” requirements and other requirements established by the State related to affirmatiavely further fair housing. In complince with State law, there was also an option of a reduced project of 42,637 units.

It is important to note that “State law does not require for the city to construct the units, rather, it requires we plan for the construction of the units and remove barriers to construction of these units should an applicant propose a housing project” as stated by staff at the Planning Commission meeting.

The Commission failed to pass a motion by Commissioner Jong Limb to approve the 2045 General Plan Update with the reduced housing plan of 42,637 units in a 2-2 vote (Yes: Lin, Limb; No: Pierson, Bhatia; Huang absent). The Commission decided to have to the City Council make the ultimate decision in a 3-1 vote (Yes: Lin, Limb, Bhatia; No: Pierson; Huang absent).

Before the City Council hears this item on July 23, 2024, here are 10 facts regarding Irvine’s 2045 General Plan update. To watch the meeting and staff’s presentation from the Planning Commission meeting, click here.

In California, if a city does not have a certified Housing Element and plan for the number of homes required by the state, the consequences can include losing all local control. This could result in the State requiring Irvine approve any housing project as long as at least 20% of the homes are low-income or 100% of them are moderate-income.

Specifically, if a California city does not have a certified housing element, the California Housing Accountability Act indicates that the city cannot use its zoning or general plan standards to disapprove any housing project that meets the affordability requirements. This would put our protected open spaces, such as our Quail Hill open space, as well as our existing villages in the center of Irvine, in jeopardy of development.

According to ABC7 News, a Los Angeles County Superior Court ruling found that the city of Beverly Hills cannot issue new construction permits because it is not following state laws requiring it to plan for affordable housing. The ruling prohibited the city from issuing permits for residential renovations, commercial developments or any other construction projects (ie: bathroom or kitchen renovations, adding a second story, etc.).

The affordable housing advocate group Californians for Homeownership filed suit against Beverly Hills last year, accusing the city of skirting state housing laws for years. The city of Beverly Hills is now appealing the court’s decision, resulting in additional legal fees.

For more than 50 years, California law has required cities to have a compliant affordable housing plan that spells out where housing for people at various income levels will be developed. The numbers have increased over the years due to California’s housing crisis and affordability issues.

The below slide shown at the May 16, 2024 Planning Commission meeting shows where the units are planned. The three focus areas are in Irvine’s transit hubs by the train stations, resulting in transit-oriented development (TOD). By placing the density near TOD, our existing villages and open spaces are preserved.

Click for 2045 General Plan Update Presentation

Huntington Beach, CA – Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a legal action against Huntington Beach for failing to comply with state housing mandates last year.

“We won’t stand idly by as Huntington Beach continues to flagrantly violate state housing laws designed to bring crucial affordable housing opportunities to our communities. We’ll use every legal tool available to hold the city accountable and enforce state housing laws,” Bonta said in a news release last April.

Huntington Beach officials have filed a competing lawsuit in federal court, alleging the housing mandates are an illegal overreach by Sacramento that infringes on municipal zoning laws.

A federal judge tossed that case out, but city officials have since announced they’re appealing to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Read: Voice of OC | Huntington Beach Barred from Approving Any New Housing Developments

Just this month, according to a ruling from San Diego Superior Court, Huntington Beach violated the state’s housing laws by refusing to move forward with a state-mandated housing plan.

“Local governments up and down our state should take notice,” Bonta said. “We are facing a housing crisis of epic proportions, and my office will continue to act with great urgency, working with cities and counties that genuinely want to be part of the solution and holding accountable.”

Gates and the council majority argued they didn’t have to follow those rules because they are a charter city and not a general law city.

But San Diego County Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal threw that argument out, saying the city now has 120 days to bring forward a housing plan.

To read the ruling, click here

Read: Voice of OC | Huntingon Beach Loses Housing Mandate Lawsuit Against California

Fullerton, CA – “The City of Fullerton failed to fulfill their legal duty and adopt a compliant housing plan. The state took aggressive action to enforce accountability and as a result, the City of Fullerton has now entered into an agreement, ensuring that they will accommodate their fair share of housing.” For more details, click here.

Without a certified housing element, Irvine would lose state grants and funding including some examples shown in the slide below from the 2045 General Plan Update Presentation. Irvine would also lose disaster relief money from FEMA in the event of an emergency.

According to the OC Register, here are the number of affordable units each city in Orange County built in 2023:However, Irvine has not met all affordability income levels, especially in the very low and low income categories.

The proposed project of 57,656 units would significantly reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT)  to 3.5% compared to the reduced project which proposes 42,637 units which would reduce VMT to 6.7%. Vehicle miles traveled is the number of vehicle miles someone must travel to get to their intended destination.

Results of a study analyzed by city staff showed the proposed project of 57,656 units had the effect of having the lowest VMT impact at 3.5%. The reason for this is, by introudcing more housing in a jobs-rich city like Irvine, it has the intended effect of lowering the number of trips people must take to reach their places of employment.

As shown in the slide below, there is no requirement to build these units. This is worth emphasizing: There is NO REQUIREMENT TO BUILD THESE UNITS. 

Based on the construction trends since 2010, there is no likelihood all the planned units will be built. See below chart.

The City of Irvine requested a reduction of its RHNA allocation by 8,259 units (from 23,554 units to 15,295 units) back in 2020, but the appeal was denied. To read the decision by the Southern California Association of Governments, click here starting at p. 678.
There are significant consequences with not having our General Plan Amendment, certified Housing Element, and Rezoning by the statutory deadline of February 2025. Should Irvine not maintain its certified Housing Element, Irvine could lose all local control on where the density should go, Irvine would not be able to stop the State from building in our protected open spaces, and Irvine would spend millions in tax dollars in litigation in an uphill battle. To date, no city has prevailed against the State in litigation.

The City Council will decide whether to maintain a certified housing element for Irvine on July 23 2024. To see all City Council agendas along with information on how to participate in the meeting, click here.