Oak Rose

An illustration of the proposed Oak Rose apartment complex that was rejected by Elk Grove city officials last year. 

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on May 1 that he joined Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Housing and Community Development in a lawsuit that challenges Elk Grove city officials for denying a proposed housing project in Old Town Elk Grove.

Through the lawsuit, the state is seeking injunctive relief to require city officials to approve the project.

The Oak Rose Apartments are proposed for a 1.2-acre lot at 9252 Elk Grove Blvd., one lot west of Waterman Road. The project would consist of 66 units for lower-income individuals and families who previously experienced homelessness or are at risk of homelessness.

The supportive services would be provided by HOPE Cooperative, an organization that offers behavioral health and supportive housing services for people with mental health challenges in Sacramento County.

HOPE Cooperative is a third-party service provider that would manage the site and services on the property, which is currently vacant and owned by the project’s applicant, Oak Rose Apts LP, of Long Beach.

State officials allege that last year’s denial of the proposed Oak Rose Apartments by Elk Grove City Council members and planning commissioners violates state laws.

Those laws include Senate Bill 35 (SB 35), the Housing Accountability Act, and fair housing laws intended to prohibit discriminatory land-use practices, such as the Nondiscrimination in Land Use Law and the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing statute.

This proposed project was submitted under SB 35, which is a state law that provides for streamlined, ministerial review and approval of qualifying housing development projects.

The council’s rejection of the proposed apartments affirmed the Elk Grove Planning Commission’s denial of the project on the basis that it did not meet the city’s objective zoning standards for an affordable housing project, and was therefore ineligible for SB 35 ministerial review.

This rejection focused on a plan for the proposed project to include ground-floor residential units. It was determined that the project did not comply with the city’s restriction of residential units on the ground floor in the city’s Old Town Special Planning Area (OTSPA).

In the state lawsuit, it is noted: “The city found that the project was inconsistent with a mixed-use zoning standard that requires pedestrian-oriented ground-floor use, but that ground-floor use restriction cannot supply the basis for denial of a SB 35 project, because it is not an objective standard.”

In alleging a contradiction by the city, the lawsuit refers to the Planning Commission’s approval of the Elk Grove Railroad Courtyards Project, which is a multifamily, market-rate project that includes ground floor residential units at 9676 Railroad St.

“First, the city allowed a market-rate housing development located within the OTSPA, the Elk Grove Railroad Courtyards Project, to move forward despite the presence of ground floor residential units,” the lawsuit notes. “The city found that Railroad Courtyards was consistent with planning standards, and completely avoided any discussion of the same use restrictions that it cited in its denial of the Oak Rose Apartments, evidencing discriminatory intent.”

Bonta, in a press statement issued on May 1, wrote that in this housing crisis, governments must “do their part” to assist low-income people with affordable housing options.

“Everyone deserves to have a place to call home,” he wrote. “California has critically important laws designed to combat housing discrimination and increase affordable housing opportunities. Today’s lawsuit against Elk Grove sends a strong message to local governments: If you violate fair housing laws, we will hold you to account.”   

Echoing Bonta’s words, in the same press release, Newsom expressed his support for affordable housing.

“When local governments repeatedly fail to uphold their obligations and blatantly look for ways to skirt state law, we will use every tool available, including legal actions to ensure that Californians have access to needed housing,” he wrote.

Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen responded to the lawsuit, which claims that the city “improperly used its limited authority to conduct design review and project oversight to determine, incorrectly, that the project was ineligible for streamlined, ministerial approval under SB 35.”

““It is important to remember that the city did not disapprove the Oak Rose project itself,” she wrote in a statement. “Rather, the city found that the project was not eligible for ministerial, streamlined approval under Senate Bill 35, because the project did not comply with all of the city’s objective development standards.”

Singh-Allen added that the city is “not a bad actor.”

“Elk Grove has a strong track record for supporting affordable housing projects, and continues to engage in good faith discussions with the Oak Rose Apartments’ applicant in hopes of reaching a mutually agreeable solution,” she wrote.

A city-issued press release mentions that the city has provided updates regarding the status of those discussions to the attorney general’s office “in hopes of reaching a resolution that is beneficial to all impacted parties, particularly the city’s low-income households and persons experiencing homelessness.”

Dana Trujillo, CEO and president of Excelerate Housing Group, a partner in the proposed Oak Rose Apartments project, said that unsuccessful efforts to have the city waive its standards for the proposed apartments led to legal action.

“After months of hearings, we exhausted every avenue with the city to get the project approved,” she wrote in a statement sent to the Citizen. “We had no choice but to ask for the court’s assistance to get this project the green light that it legally deserves.

“With regard to the attorney general’s actions, we welcome any action or support the state can provide that will allow us to build permanent housing and support for unhoused residents who need it, in Elk Grove and throughout California.”