No, Malibu, Guest Houses Are Not Low-Income Housing

Tuesday, March 31, 2015
2-story Malibu low-income guest house unit (photo: Redfin via LA Curbed)

Perhaps seen through the eyes of ultra-wealthy Malibu residents, a well-appointed, two-story guest house for the nanny or granny might look like low-income housing.

But not to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin, Jr., who invalidated Malibu’s state-mandated housing plan for violating laws that require a minimum number of housing units for the less fortunate. “Housing stock that is made available only to family members or domestic employees does not qualify as low-income housing,” the judge wrote in his decision.

Malibu was required in its 2008-14 Housing Element (pdf) to make sure that one way or the other the city added 188 low-  and very low-income housing units. City government responded by designating three parcels for development of 158 low-income housing units and 30 for second units at homes.

Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin disagreed with the judge, but lost the argument. She told the Malibu Surfside News that it’s “State policy—to have housing right next to jobs. With respect to using those units for housekeepers and nannies, Malibu provides a good number of jobs in that industry. There’s no shame in identifying those units [as low income].”

The Malibu Housing Element said qualifying units need to be occupied by “lower-income” people. Presumably, that would be lower than the Malibu median income of $132,000. The maximum rent charged to people in low-income and very low-income units is $1,516 and $947, respectively.

The city was sued by a developer, Trancas PCH LLC, which wanted to include some low-income units on a 35-acre, multi-family residential project fronting the ocean in exchange for lucrative zoning considerations. Malibu rejected the request that the property be included in the city’s three-parcel Affordable Housing Overlay Zone, blocking its deal.

In reaching his decision, Judge Fruin noted a 2011 Malibu survey of homeowners with second units that found that of the 38 respondees, only 11 had occupied units. Eight of those were rent-free and three were market rate. Malibu market rates ranged between $3,200 and $10,000 a month.

Trancas has been fighting with the city, through multiple lawsuits, for two decades to develop its mostly rural property where Pacific Coast Highway and Trancas Canyon Road converge. The Los Angeles Business Journal called it a “feud” in January when it reported that Trancas had dropped its lawsuit against the city. Trancas had received tentative approval in 1984 from Los Angeles County to build 52 condos and 15 homes at the site when the property was unincorporated.

But Malibu incorporated in 1991 and the city planning department never took a shine to the development. Malibu Mayor John Sibert crowed at the time, “Closing the book on this development proposal is terrific news for the residents of western Malibu, and ending this series of baseless lawsuits takes a great financial burden off the city’s pocketbook,” according to Business Journal.

Trancas attorney Fred Gaines returned the snark upon learning of Judge Fruin’s decision. “Some movie star’s mother living in the beachfront guesthouse of a $20 million mansion is not low income housing available to needy persons and families,” he told Surfside News. “The County was correct in forcing Malibu to follow State law and provide their fair share of low-income housing.”

The judge told the city to redo its Housing Element and figure out a way to either rent those 30 second units to low-income folks or find a spot for 30 real units, which would presumably open the door for Trancas. City Attorney Hogin implied the judicial decision may be inconsequential, because Malibu is working on a new Housing Element with the assumption that the city will be required to have fewer low-income units in the future.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

City of Malibu Loses Low-Income Housing Lawsuit (by Emily Sawicki, Malibu Times)

Secondary Units Not Adequate Form of Low Income Housing, Court Says (by Ashleigh Fryer, Malibu Surfside News)

Malibu Has Been Trying to Pass Off Guest Houses as Low-Income Housing (by Adrian Glick Kudler, LA Curbed)

Malibu Can't Pass Off Guesthouses as Low-Income Housing (by Carla Hall, Los Angeles Times opinion)

Developer Drops Trancas Town Lawsuit, Ending Malibu Feud (by Hannah Miet, Los Angeles Business Journal)

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