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Huntington Beach defiant on low-income housing mandate

City Atty. Michael Gates has written a letter to the state indicating Huntington Beach's resistance to state requirements that a certain number of low-income housing units be added.

The letter, which has the support of the City Council, requests that the state drop its requirement that Huntington Beach add 1,353 low-income dwellings by 2021. The city has until September to identify sites for the housing in order to comply with state regulations.

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Gates, in the letter, gave the state a deadline of April 8 to respond before the city considers further action.

When asked in an interview if that meant pursuing legal action, Gates said he did not want to speculate about what the City Council might decide to do but added that "all options are on the table."

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The letter says the state used "flawed data" in calculating the appropriate number of low-income housing in the city, including using unjustified population projections, and that this has "caused the City of Huntington Beach great difficulty in meeting these exceedingly high demands while trying to balance other State law(s), other necessary zoning considerations and community needs."

Earlier this month, more than 200 community members rallied at a City Council meeting to voice concerns over adding low-income housing in the city, citing the possibility of decreased home values, added traffic, parking problems and more car accidents if the units were built in their neighborhoods.

The council ultimately decided that the city should fight the state on the matter.

The letter was sent to the California Department of Housing and Community Development and the Southern California Assn. of Governments, which has assisted the state in calculating regional housing needs.

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Gates said in his letter that SCAG based the 1,353 units for Huntington Beach on faulty population projections.

"For instance, it appears that SCAG relied upon population growth studies from the DOF, yet a study of the DOF's population growth projections over time reveals internal inconsistencies," Gates wrote, referring to the state Department of Finance.

He said the Department of Finance predicted that the city would grow to 201,993 people by the year 2008, but a subsequent study found that the population of Huntington Beach was 189,992 in 2010 and projected to grow to 198,389 by 2015.

"Note, the 2015 population figure is considerably lower than the earlier, 2008 figure," Gates wrote.

Further, he said, the city's population did not grow from 2004 to 2015, since the 2015 population projections of 198,389 were the same as projected 11 years earlier.

"The city of Huntington Beach simply cannot be required to accept higher RHNA numbers to account for lower RHNA numbers allocated to surrounding cities," Gates wrote, referring to the Regional Housing Need Allocation, which is mandated by state law to decide how to address housing needs.

Jeff Liu, manager of communications for SCAG, declined to comment without seeing the full letter.

Gates said in a phone conversation following Monday's meeting that he believes the city made "strong, compelling arguments" in the letter.

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"I'm hoping the state appreciates the points that were made and reaches out to the city to try to work out some of the issues," he said. "This is not about affordable housing at all. This is about challenging or questioning some of the state mandates."

Longtime Surf City resident Janice Ugland said she believes the city should stand up to the state, but argues that the city could find sufficient affordable housing in existing units.

She said units dubbed "low income" are often too expensive for those with low incomes, including young adults and senior citizens.

"I believe the city is going to take this all the way," said Ugland, 53. "I believe the numbers are skewed. We're an aging community. The housing that is built doesn't work here because they're too expensive. If the units were geared for people making retail wages, that makes complete sense and I would be applauding it, but that's not the case. The prevailing wages here are not geared toward these moderate developments."

The city put itself in a 410-unit shortfall in May when the council approved an amendment to the Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan, which was adopted in September 2013 to revitalize Beach and Edinger by streamlining the building approval process.

The changes were approved to slow and cap the number of housing developments along Beach when it appeared that the streamlining was speeding up development at an unacceptable pace.

In July, the nonprofit Kennedy Commission sued the city over the changes because of concerns about the number of affordable housing units in the city. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled in November in favor of the nonprofit, but the matter is in limbo because the city is appealing the decision.

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