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By Collin Breaux

Like every municipality throughout California, the City of San Juan Capistrano is working through satisfying an update to its housing regulations, which is required by state law.

As part of the update, the city recently sent in a new Housing Element—which serves as a municipality’s housing guidelines—to the state for certification. While the California Department of Housing and Community Development found the update “addresses many statutory requirements,” further revisions were requested before the Housing Element is certified.

Particularly, Paul McDougall—senior program manager for the Department’s Division of Housing Policy Development—required the city to explicitly make affordable housing goals clearer; target geographic areas or neighborhoods and areas of higher need; further address the needs of what are deemed to be extremely low-income households; and reduce government restraints when it comes to facilitating housing.

Extremely low-income is defined as being less than half of Orange County’s annual median income of $119,100 for a four-person household. The city must accommodate for 324 housing units for extremely low-income households.

“Specifically, they wanted additional goals, actions, metrics and milestones associated with the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing program,” said City Senior Planner Laura Stokes during a presentation to the City Council on Tuesday, Aug. 16. “What that means is we have 21 different programs identified within our Housing Element, and the state wanted us to add more information as far how each of those programs furthers fair housing.”

In response, city staff recommended several tweaks to the Housing Element, including sending out newsletters with information about fair housing laws in English and Spanish; adding in information about plans to incorporate affordable housing for at-risk populations at the current City Hall site; and expanding the city’s service contract with Mercy House, which assists people dealing with homelessness.

“The state identified that we needed more information about our reasonable accommodations process. Reasonable accommodations are needed when a city’s code acts as a barrier to individuals with disabilities,” Stokes said. “In that, the city already initiated a code amendment back in June in order to codify a reasonable accommodations process that will give a clear and legible process for any citizen to review and pursue, should they need it.”

The City Council approved the changes on Tuesday. The revised Housing Element will be sent back to the state for possible approval.

Prior Housing Element updates—required every eight years—included rezoning of various areas throughout the city, including what is called the Oso Ranch Planned Community toward the north end of town.

“This property is owned by Fairmont Schools, which is located off of Oso Road,” Stokes said. “Although it’s owned by Fairmont Schools, it’s not a part of the campus itself. It’s actually across the creek in a large vacant area of land about 40 acres.”

Other areas rezoned to allow housing uses are three parcels at current PetSmart, Staples and T-Mobile locations adjacent to Costco.

The city is not required to actually build housing itself, but rather to facilitate the opportunity for housing.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at

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