COSTA MESA – The City Council’s approval of a 224-unit apartment complex slated to replace the Costa Mesa Motor Inn motel was halted Thursday, May 11 when a judge said the city violated provisions of a state law intended to increase affordable housing.
In her ruling, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel said the state’s density bonus laws prevents local jurisdictions from providing their own density bonus or residential incentives.
“A conflict exists if the local legislation duplicates, contradicts or enters an area fully occupied by general law,” Strobel wrote.
The decision is part of a lawsuit filed by the Kennedy Commission, an Irvine-based affordable housing advocacy organization; and a group of former Motor Inn residents.
The intent of density bonuses is to encourage developers to include low-income housing in their projects in exchange for concessions from local municipalities, such as allowing an increase in the density of a development above the maximum limit.
A lawyer for Motor Inn owners Miracle Mile Properties could not immediately be reached Friday.
Mayor Katrina Foley said the city will meet with its lawyers to evaluate its options.
Councilman Allan Mansoor, a proponent of repurposing the city’s blighted motels, said “the old building was obsolete so I look forward to a new proposal that will meet the needs of our community.”
In 2015, the council approved the demolition of the 236-room Motor Inn to make way for the apartment complex. The plan called for a density of 54 units per acre – an increase from the 40 units per acre allowed under the city’s rules.
Miracle Mile proposed setting aside 20 units for moderate-income earners.
A single person living alone in Orange County and earning $58,450 qualifies as low-income, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Supporters of the project said the Motor Inn had long been a hub for crime and drug use. The motel, the city’s largest, had been the source of multiple police calls for service.
Opponents accused the city of endorsing the plan without providing relocation assistance for motel residents, many of whom said it was the last resort before homelessness.
The Kennedy Commission filed the lawsuit soon after.
The density bonus was not applied correctly under its original intent, said Cesar Covarrubias, executive director of the Kennedy Commission.
“The density bonus is one of the few tools available for local jurisdictions to provide affordable housing,” he said. “It’s not just to provide incentives to developers.”
The commission has not specified how many units should be afforded to low-income earners.
Strobel ruled against the Commission’s allegation that the city wanted to “displace the motel’s residents and replace them with desirable tenants.”
An allegation that the city is responsible for providing relocation payments to former Motor Inn residents was transferred to another court.