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State lawsuit targeting Huntington Beach over housing could end with new plan

beach boulevard.jpg
A significant proposed change to Huntington Beach’s Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan would establish an “affordable housing overlay” with nodes at seven sites citywide, predominantly along Beach Boulevard.
(File Photo)

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is nearing a deal with Huntington Beach that would end a lawsuit over what the state says is the city’s failure to plan for more affordable housing.

In a letter sent to the city Friday, state housing officials said a proposal to increase low-income housing development in the city would meet the terms of a state law that requires all communities to zone for enough affordable housing to meet projected population growth.

Huntington Beach’s Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the proposal Tuesday. If the City Council approves it by March, the letter said, the city would be in compliance with the state law. Thus, the central issue in the state’s lawsuit would be resolved, said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman with the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency.

“The lawsuit against Huntington Beach is about them not being in compliance,” Heimerich said. “If they come into compliance, the lawsuit would likely become moot.”

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Planning commissioners will hold a public hearing on proposed amendments to the city’s Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan, including establishing sites for potential development of affordable housing.

The commission will consider recommending that the City Council adopt the 2013-21 general plan housing element and pursue certification from the California Department of Housing and Community Development so the city can be eligible for state homelessness response funding.

One significant proposed change to the specific plan would establish an “affordable housing overlay” with nodes at seven sites citywide, predominantly along Beach Boulevard.

In all, those sites encompass almost 11 acres and would provide “potential development of 607 multifamily units,” according to a staff report.

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State housing letter to Huntington Beach Jan. 10, 2020

City Manager Oliver Chi said in a statement that city leaders were motivated to act because they wanted to tap state homelessness prevention dollars available only to local governments that are in compliance with the broader state housing law.

“We want to compliment the team that Huntington Beach put together that worked with [the state housing department] over the holidays,” Newsom said during a news conference Friday to unveil his state budget proposal.

The city’s current 2013-21 housing element was certified in October 2013 but was later decertified following city amendments to the Beach and Edinger plan in May 2015. Those changes reduced the cap on new residential development from 4,500 units to 2,100 and imposed stricter height and setback requirements.

The amendments also meant the city no longer had enough land zoned to accommodate low-income residents under state requirements.

Last January, Newsom spearheaded a lawsuit against Huntington Beach, arguing that the city backtracked on its plans to zone for affordable housing along the city’s primary commercial corridors and never took action to replace the planned residential density elsewhere in the city, as required by law. The case, filed in the governor’s first month in office, was widely interpreted to be a warning shot against local governments that have resisted housing development — something Newsom has argued is a key cause of the state’s shortage of homes.

The city staff report states that “within the proposed affordable housing overlay ... residential development would not be subject to the existing 2,100-unit development cap until all of the remaining lower-income RHNA [Regional Housing Needs Assessment] units have been developed.”

RHNA is a representation of future housing needs.

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Should Huntington Beach pass the proposed development plan, it would not end all housing litigation with the state. The city has challenged several recently passed state housing laws, arguing that they unconstitutionally impinge on the city’s authority to regulate land use.

Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 2000 Main St.

Julia Sclafani is a Daily Pilot staff writer. Liam Dillon writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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