ELK GROVE, Calif. — Attorney General Rob Bonta has a message for Elk Grove: approve an affordable housing project proposed for the city's historic district or face legal consequences.
"Our message to Elk Grove, and any other city that's contemplating a similar action that violates the housing law of the state of California, is act in good faith. Follow the law and do your part to contribute to our shared challenge in the state of California of not having enough housing, including affordable housing,” said Bonta.
Bonta announced Thursday that the City of Elk Grove violated state laws when they denied the Oak Rose Apartments project in July 2022. The project would have provided 66 units of affordable housing for people at risk of homelessness.
Elk Grove has 30 days to get into compliance with state law or they could wind up in court, potentially facing injunctive relief, penalties and damages.
"Recently, we filed a lawsuit against Huntington Beach, which if Elk Grove needs any evidence that we are willing to file a lawsuit when the law is violated in this failure to comply after opportunity to comply, Huntington Beach is your case in point," said Bonta.
For the city's part, they pushed back against Bonta's assessment, saying the project didn't meet their objective zoning standards and that the allegations were incorrect.
“We agree that every city must do its fair share to address the state housing crisis and Elk Grove is doing its part. We reject the notion that Elk Grove is engaged in unlawful discrimination. We remain committed to supporting solutions that balance the needs of all in the community” said Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen.
According to a news release, Elk Grove previously said the project didn't qualify for approval because it included residential units on the ground floor, violating a zoning requirement.
Bonta pointed to Elk Grove allowing the Elk Grove Railroad Courtyards Project, a market-rate housing development, to move forward despite the presence of ground floor residential units and also pointed toward the city using a strict interpretation of the restriction with Oak Rose.
"They treated two very similar situated projects differently, and in doing so, violated fair housing laws in the state of California," said Bonta.
“This was not a deep investigation that was difficult to identify or determine. We were able to quite easily identify another project that was very similar in the same area that was approved and compare it to the Oak Rose Apartment Project, which is the one that was denied, and could very clearly see -- strikingly actually -- how similar they were,” he added.
With a housing crisis in California, he said Elk Grove's contribution is approving the Oak Rose project, getting the units online and following the law in the process.
“If we have a 66-unit project here in Elk Grove, and then another one in the next city over and another one in the next city over, and city after city is taking a similar course, then you have massive missed opportunities, massive violations of the law at scale and a failure to move closer to our meeting our housing needs,” said Bonta, addressing why the issue is important to enforce.
Elk Grove has more than 1,100 new affordable housing units in some form of development in Elk Grove, nearly 800 of which are actively being built, according to the city.
They also said they've tried to find answers with an alternative site for the Oak Rose project.
“Elk Grove remains committed to providing housing for all,” said Mayor Singh-Allen. “The applicant has been non-responsive to our attempts to negotiate a solution that we think offers an alternative site with similar access to amenities. The City remains open to a productive dialogue with the applicant to come to a mutually beneficial resolution.”
Dana Trujillo, CEO and president of Excelerate Housing Group, was one of the people behind the Oak Rose project. She said they bought the site on Elk Grove Boulevard from a private party in 2021 and worked for months with city staff to make sure it complied with local rules.
"With regard to the Attorney General’s letter released today, 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," Trujillo told ABC10 in a statement.