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Leader Editorial: Lawsuits could result from changing plan

The opinion the Leader.

January 31, 2014

Although a majority of the Burbank City Council earlier this month passed the housing element of its general plan as required by law, it is in limbo — at least temporarily.

The Jan. 7 vote was 3-1. Vice Mayor Dave Gordon was the sole dissenting vote; Councilman Gary Bric was absent. Public outcry ensued from people who are worried that businesses will gobble up homes in residential neighborhoods to offer transitional (read “sober-living”) housing. Under the law, these group homes, if they house six or fewer people, have all the same rights that a traditional family has in an R-1 setting. No licenses or oversight are required.

There is nothing inappropriate in the city’s approved housing element. Let’s take a look at the state law that the city of Burbank must follow: The housing element must demonstrate that transitional housing and supportive housing are permitted as a residential use and only subject to those restrictions that apply to other residential dwellings of the same type in the same zone. In other words, transitional housing and supportive housing are permitted in all zones allowing residential uses and are not subject to any restrictions (e.g., occupancy limit) not imposed on similar dwellings (e.g., single family home, apartments) in the same zone in which the transitional housing and supportive housing is located. For example, transitional housing located in an apartment building in a multifamily zone is permitted in the same manner as an apartment building in the same zone and supportive housing located in a single family home in a single family zone is permitted in the same manner as a single family home in the same zone.

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Last fall a federal appeals court unanimously ruled that the city of Newport Beach, which thought it had neatly sidestepped the law by setting up restrictions to these transitional homes back in 2008, could be challenged at trial because such restrictions could be seen as having been motivated by illegal discrimination. This opened up the coastal city to a host of lawsuits.

Our vice mayor, given to political grandstanding, claims he cares more about what his constituents want than what the federal and state governments demand. Gordon’s supporters love his independent thinking. And they turned out at this week’s council meeting to address the flaws they see in the housing element. Their impassioned words apparently convinced Councilman Bob Frutos, who said he’s ready to rescind his Jan. 7 vote. This can only happen if the City Council agrees to rehear the matter. We would urge the council to leave standing the housing element as approved rather than invite multimillion-dollar lawsuits from the state, the feds, or from transitional housing operators.

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