The state has mandated that Santa Monica build 8,895 total units of housing including 6,168 affordable units by 2029, and in a Sept. 28 meeting City Council opened the door to challenging that number.

Council members voted 5 to 2 to ask the Westside Cities Council of Governments to discuss whether the WSCCOG should join a lawsuit alleging that the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) should recalculate the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA).

The lawsuit was brought by the Orange County Council of Governments and claims that the RHNA calculation that the State needs 1.34 million new homes by 2029 is a miscalculation and that the actual number should be about 651,100.

The gulf between the two numbers is significant and if the HCD’s calculation were to be overturned it would have large implications for the rate of development and housing density in Santa Monica.

City Councilmembers are divided over whether joining the lawsuit is an appropriate action.

Councilmembers Gleam Davis and Kristin McCowan oppose the lawsuit and voted against having the WSCCOG discuss potentially joining as a plaintiff.

“This is one of the weakest petitions for writ of mandate I’ve seen in my 40 years of practicing law,” said Davis. “I think the notion that these numbers somehow were pulled out of thin air and weren’t completely vetted is ludicrous.”

Davis also said she fears financial exposure if Santa Monica joined as a plaintiff and the lawsuit fails. Davis is further worried that even discussing joining the lawsuit would signal bad faith to HCD and jeopardize the ability for Santa Monica to have its Housing Element certified.

Mayor Sue Himmelrich said she had reservations about joining the lawsuit, but supported the motion because she believes the RHNA allocations is an important issue for the WSCCOG to discuss.

Councilmember Phil Brock was strongly in support of the motion, having submitted the request as a 13 item, and directly pushed back on Councilmember Davis’s argument.

“I think bad faith would be ignoring the will of our residents who will be severely impacted by this and our treasury doesn’t have a billion and a half dollars to pay for this housing,” said Brock. “I don’t think we can equate fear of approval of our Housing Element for non willingness to fight for what’s right in this case,” said Brock.

The lawsuit alleges that there were several mistakes in the methodology behind the RHNA allocations and bases these claims in part on studies done by Freddie Mac and the Embarcadero Institute. The lawsuit specifically claims that overcrowding and cost burden data resulted in double counting and that inaccurate population forecasts and vacancy rates were used.

The HCD department has stood by the credibility of its numbers and refused to perform a recount.

The WSCCOG meets every other month to discuss regional and cooperative planning and often takes stances on issues at a State or Federal level. The WSCCOG includes the cities of Beverly Hills, Culver City, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, the City of Los Angeles (Districts 5 and 11) and the County of Los Angeles (Districts 3, 2, and 4). Its next meeting is on Oct. 14.

Clara@smdp.com