“Clovis didn’t get to be 70% white by accident,” said Patience Milrod in 2019 when filing a lawsuit initiated by longtime housing and homeless advocate Dez Martinez against the City. Milrod continued, “If [the City] is going to zone in a way that only rich people can afford to live [there], they are zoning in a way that only white people can afford to live there.”
At the time, Milrod was executive director for California Legal Services, and the lawsuit alleged that the City of Clovis was out of compliance with California housing element law.
Clovis was discriminating against lower-income families because its zoning practices were primarily focused on single-family homes. This was, in effect, pricing low-income families out of the market.
The lawsuit required the City to take additional action and make revisions to its general plan to accommodate more affordable housing.
Since 1969, California has required that all cities and counties plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community. California’s local governments meet this requirement by adopting housing plans as part of their general plan. General plans serve as the local government’s plan for land use and other elements.
California’s housing element law acknowledges that, for the private market to adequately address the housing needs and demand of Californians, local governments must adopt plans and regulatory systems that provide opportunities for low-income housing.
In May 2021, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Kapetan ruled that the City of Clovis was not in compliance with these state housing laws.
Clovis was ordered to zone or rezone for 4,425 affordable housing units. The court found that the City discriminated against people based on income and race by not adequately zoning or planning affordable housing and therefore failed to comply with state housing law.
The City appealed Judge Kapetan’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that it had complied with state law.
On April 7, Justices Donald Franson, Jennifer Dethen and Thomas de Santos of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Kapetan’s ruling to issue a writ of mandate compelling Clovis to adopt a housing plan that substantially complies with the law and to zone or rezone an adequate number of sites to accommodate the city’s unmet share of regional housing needs allocation.
The ruling also stated that Clovis did not identify sufficient sites to accommodate lower-income housing allocation. The City of Clovis fought the law and lost. Now, the City must provide zoning for the development of low-income housing.
This court ruling is a precedent-setting ruling and a major victory for housing activists. “You want to cry from happiness and excitement. This is a huge, historical thing,” said Martinez. “I’m overjoyed about the number of people who will be able to reside in Clovis because of this.”