A pilot program is underway in San Diego County to self-certify the county's housing element, as well as the housing elements for each of its 18 cities. But despite San Diego's receiving the autonomy desired by many local jurisdictions, the allocation of low-income units continues to hamper the planning process. The state-approved program was designed to give local governments more flexibility in meeting affordable housing goals and avoiding oversight by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. But so far, the program overseen by the San Diego Association of Governments has run into the same roadblocks that other jurisdictions in California hit when trying to create acceptable housing elements. The association has not yet approved a regional housing statement that identifies each jurisdiction's proportion of the region's low-income housing needs — despite a June 30 deadline for the county and the 18 cities to complete their housing elements. To give SANDAG six additional months, Assemblywoman Susan Davis, D-San Diego introduced AB 411. The Assembly approved the bill in early May, but the Senate had not taken action as of late May. "It's taking longer to agree how to allocate housing needs than we had anticipated," said Susan Baldwin, senior regional planner with SANDAG. The primary issue, she said, is allocating low-income housing units, which make up 38% of the homes needed in the county. The association's board rejected a regional housing needs statement this spring, and is now scheduled to decide new alternatives by June 25. San Diego is the first county attempting to self-certify all its housing elements. "The ideas was to look and see how it worked out," said Baldwin. "It's too early to see how it's worked out." Under the law setting up the self-certification program, AB 1715 from 1995, San Diego County and its cities were supposed to show they had produced a certain number of affordable housing units during the previous housing cycle. If that can be shown, then HCD does not have to review the housing element. HCD officials sit on SANDAG's housing element advisory committee, along with representatives of local government and local groups, such as advocates of low-income housing. When lawmakers considered AB 1715, a legislative analysis said "local officials are frustrated with HCD's inflexible requirements, which are impossible to meet. The current housing element law emphasizes the preparation of a ‘planning document' instead of ‘housing production.'" The idea behind self-certification was to simplify the complicated housing element law by establishing performance standards based on production of units for cities to meet. Local government also has to produce goals for the next five-year cycle. While 10 cities in county have met their own goals for production of housing during the previous cycle and consider themselves to be self-certified, SANDAG has not figured out how many low-income units each jurisdiction must accommodate. The proposed regional housing statement rejected by SANDAG's board in March was criticized by cities that already have high numbers of low-income residents. Those cities want other jurisdictions to take more responsibility for housing low-income people. So SANDAG will now be asked to consider two new alternatives, along with the one it rejected. The total regional share allocation for 1999 to 2004 is the same — 95,479 units. But each alternative gives cities different allocations of very low-income, low-income, moderate-income and above moderate-income housing. Each jurisdiction must show that it will absorb future growth by adopting programs and zoning land for those specific housing needs. Under the alternative that was rejected in March, the mostly upper-middle-class city of Carlsbad would have to set up programs and zoning for 1,305 units of very low-income housing. Under a middle-ground alternative, it would have to do the same for 1,541 units of very low-income housing, and under the third alternative, it would have to create the same for 1,770 units of very low-income housing. In contrast, poorer National City would have to do the same for 79 units of very low-income housing under the first alternative, 43 under the second alternative, and nine under the third alternative. "All of the alternatives are pushing the jurisdictions towards a more equitable distribution of low-income and very low-income households in the region," Baldwin said. And some local officials expect the third alternative, which redistributes the low-income housing need, to pass. Catherine Rodman, an attorney for Friends of Legal Aid who sits SANDAG's Housing Element Advisory Committee, said the cities with more low-income residents are fighting harder for the third alternative than some of the county's wealthier enclaves. "The most lobbying is going to come from the National Cities, not the Del Mars," she said. So far, 10 of the county's jurisdictions have met their goals for the 1991-99 cycle and are eligible for housing element self-certification. But those goals for low-income housing were low. A recent draft SANDAG report said that because of "limited resources available for low-income housing," the annual fair share goal for each jurisdiction was 2.5% per year of each jurisdictions' low-income housing needs. Over a five-year period, the jurisdictions had to meet only 12.5% of those needs. The housing element is a state-mandated section of each city and county general plan. Under law, the housing element must show how each community will meet affordable housing targets established by state and regional agencies. HCD reviews the housing elements but enforcement generally occurs only through litigation. While San Diego's self-certification program is unique, other COGs in California are also grappling with regional share allocations as they prepare for upcoming housing element review. Due to state budget cutbacks, money was not allocated during much of the past decade for housing element work, and the work was not done. At the same time, HCD made housing element compliance a higher priority during the Wilson administration, a trend that is expected to continue under the Davis administration. More than half the state's jurisdictions are in compliance, according to Mike Rawson, director of the California Affordable Housing Law Project in Oakland. Rawson's organization serves as co-counsel on a number of housing element lawsuits. Recent cases have been against the city of Benicia, Sonoma County, Santa Cruz County, and Los Angeles County, which is being sued over its housing element policies in its approval of the Newhall Ranch project. Contacts: Susan Baldwin, SANDAG, (619)595-5300 Catherine Rodman, Attorney, Friends of Legal Aid, (619)233-8474 Mike Rawson, Director, California Affordable Housing Law Project, (510)891-9794 Jim Griffin, Director of Community Development, City of El Cajon, (619)441-1741