The state and an Orange County city have both filed lawsuits this month questioning each other’s power over homebuilding, fights that will determine how far Gov. Gavin Newsom can go in his bid to push local governments to allow for more housing.
The city of Huntington Beach sued the state on Jan. 17 alleging that high-profile 2017 legislation to force cities to approve housing projects that meet local zoning rules is unconstitutional. The 2017 law, Senate Bill 35, was designed to address rising housing costs by making it easier for homes to be built. Huntington Beach’s lawsuit contends that the legislation impinges on the city’s authority to control development decisions within its boundaries.
“SB 35 seeks to create a system where the state controls how, where and when housing is built in every city in California,” said the lawsuit, which was filed in Orange County Superior Court. “SB 35 essentially creates unconstitutional authority for the state to ‘rezone’ local land use in a city for its (ill-conceived) political purposes.”
The Huntington Beach case was filed a week before Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state was separately suing the city, alleging that Huntington Beach was defying a different state housing law. In that case, the state argues that Huntington Beach has failed to set aside sufficient land for new residential development, a requirement under a law first passed in 1967.
Neither Newsom nor Huntington Beach officials mentioned the earlier case on Friday. Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates said in an interview on Sunday that he believed the legal issues involved in both lawsuits were distinct, but that the state was singling out his city because it robustly defends its housing policies.
“Cities and local governments know what the community needs and how to solve problems,” Gates said. “Sacramento takes a one-size-fits-all approach to everything.”
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the author of the 2017 housing law, learned about Huntington Beach’s litigation after Newsom’s announcement, according to a spokesman. Wiener blasted Huntington Beach, saying that longstanding deference to cities and counties over homebuilding has played a major role in the state’s affordability problems.
“Simply put: We need to stop burying our heads in the sand and recognize that if we don’t do things differently around housing, we face a bleak future — one in which the lucky few have housing they can afford while everyone else struggles,” Wiener said in the statement. “Huntington Beach’s dismissive approach to housing — claiming there is no problem and that the state should just mind its own business — is Exhibit A for why we have a crisis in this state.”