Four-City Challenge to SANDAG Housing Numbers Fails

A legal challenge to SANDAG’s “RHNA numbers,” allocating the number of housing units to be produced by various cities in the current 8-year housing cycle, has fallen flat, with the California Court of Appeals on June 20 unanimously rejecting a lawsuit brought by four cities – Solana Beach, Coronado, Lemon Grove and Imperial Beach.

A Heated Political Debate:
As Del Mar residents may recall, SANDAG’s allocation of 175 housing units to Del Mar, as part of its new 8-year Housing Element cycle, has been the subject of heated political debate in recent years.


Councilmember Gaasterland, for example, sent a mass email just before the 2020 election calling the numbers for Del Mar and Solana Beach “unworkable,” saying, “We must keep fighting back against those numbers.”


The idea of a lawsuit gained support among some of those critical of SANDAG’s methodology and process, and indeed, the four cities mentioned above filed suit against SANDAG to challenge the RHNA methodology and allocations.


Perhaps Del Mar’s decision not to join this litigation was shaped by advice from the City Attorney that such a lawsuit was very unlikely to succeed. In any event, the City of Del Mar saved considerable time and money by not joining the lawsuit. The Superior Court dismissed the suit in 2021; the four cities appealed, and lost again on June 20, 2022 in a published decision by the California Court of Appeals that unanimously affirmed the lower court’s dismissal.


Lessons Learned?
The failure of these four cities to succeed in “fighting back against those numbers” should give pause to those who lambasted then-Mayor and Del Mar’s SANDAG representative, Ellie Haviland, for viewing Del Mar’s RHNA numbers as realistically the best that could be achieved, or at a minimum, not legally vulnerable. Similarly excoriated were Councilmembers Sherryl Parks and Dwight Worden. RHNA numbers were allocated based on two criteria, employment and proximity to transit, and Del Mar was assigned zero units based on transit. The SANDAG process took more than a year, had multiple public hearings, and included an appeal hearing before the full SANDAG Board.


In spite of the demands of some that Del Mar join this ill-fated litigation, wiser heads prevailed and Del Mar stayed out of this losing adventure. In a reality-based political climate, that decision would now be hailed, with the benefit of hindsight at least, as the right decision.


Not a Teachable Moment
To some, however, the court decision is not a teachable moment. Here, for example, is Pam Slater-Price’s take on the recent Court of Appeals decision, in a message she distributed widely to public officials and residents on June 23:

“Just horrible. This moronic woman Ellie Haviland from Del Mar was mayor that year (before we took back our council from the socialists) and she was Blakespears (sic) handmaiden on the committee! She could see she had no future so she declined to run in 2020. Now we have a “normal” council.”
-Pam Slater-Price


In other words, the people who correctly assessed that a lawsuit should not be filed are “moronic” – not to mention “socialists.” Those who supported fighting the numbers, or engaging in this predictably losing battle, are “normal.”


This uncivil language is degrading to our public discourse. Surely we all deserve better. But all too often, this is what passes for leadership in Del Mar today.