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The Complex Relationship Between Norco, the State and Housing

In 2017, the Governor signed into law 15 new statutes (2017 Housing Package) designed to encourage the development of affordable housing and to spread the responsibility for the development of housing to all jurisdictions in the State. Some of these statutes provide funding on a voluntary basis for a number of programs and intended recipients (e.g., farmworkers). Others, however, are mandatory for all jurisdictions. Probably the most far-reaching is SB 35, which mandates a streamlined review process for projects being proposed by private developers that meet a long list of criteria. Streamlined review means that there is no review by the Planning Commission or City Council at a public meeting. The approval is mandated to be done at staff level if the project meets the criteria.

Prior to the 2017 Housing Package, the City of Norco—along with all cities in the State—received its Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) in preparation of updates to each city’s Housing Element, which is mandated by the State every eight years. The current Norco Housing Element, which was certified by the State as meeting state housing laws, expires in 2021, therefore a new update will be required. In the last Housing Element Cycle (2014-2021), the City’s RHNA number was 818 units. In order for the Housing Element to be certified, the City’s Zoning Code had to accommodate that number of units in high-density zoning (minimum 20 units per acre). The City adopted five areas with a Housing Development Overlay zone (see map) to accommodate the 818 units. If that had not been done, the City’s Housing Element would not have been certified by the State as compliant with state law. It is anticipated that the City’s RHNA number will be approximately 432 in the next Housing Element Cycle.

The State’s Housing Element Law requires cities and counties to zone for the construction of housing according to the RHNA numbers. The RHNA number for Southern California is more than 1.3 million housing units, and Norco is assigned several hundred of these units. Cities that have not met the RHNA mandates in their respective Housing Elements and zoning ordinances have faced penalties and lawsuits from Sacramento in the past, and these challenges have been increasing under Governor Newsom, which underscores the importance of having a Housing Element certified by the State.

The Norco City Council has historically opposed measures to take local land use control away from cities, but recognizes the legal requirement for the City to be compliant with state law. A certified Housing Element also ensures that the City receives its fair share of state revenue that funds other critical services, such as road repairs, education and public safety. These funds are reliant on a city’s certified Housing Element. The Housing Development Overlay in the General Plan and zoning regulations were established to facilitate the development of mixed-use housing compliant with state law, while still taking into account Norco’s rural and equestrian lifestyle.

The City must be in a position to approve high-density residential development in the Housing Development Overlay zones in order to avoid potential lawsuits and oversight scrutiny by state agencies, as well as to preserve the animal-keeping lifestyle elsewhere in the City. Quality high-density housing—with development standards compatible with the City of Norco’s established character—also brings additional benefits to the City, such as making the community more attractive to younger families who represent the future of Norco, and stimulating economic development.

For more information, contact the Planning Department at (951) 270-5661 or planning@ci.norco.ca.us.