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Huntington Beach loses housing case with state of California

The California flag waves as beachgoers enjoy a sunny day near the Huntington Beach Pier on May 23.
The California flag waves in the breeze as beachgoers enjoy a sunny day near the Huntington Beach Pier on May 23..
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

The city of Huntington Beach has lost a lawsuit against the state of California seeking to be exempted from recently passed housing bills, including Senate Bill 35 and SB 1333, and will not appeal the decision.

Huntington Beach’s lawsuit, filed in January 2019, had alleged that the housing laws, specifically SB 35, sought to “create a system where the state controls how, where and when housing is built in every city in California. SB 35 essentially creates unconstitutional authority for the state to ‘rezone’ local land use in a city for its (ill-conceived) political purposes.”

SB 1333 closed an exemption for charter cities like Huntington Beach so their housing elements would not have to match their general plans.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ruled on Jan. 28 that those bills, as well as SB 166 and Assembly Bill 101, do apply to Surf City.

"[The] city’s argument that funding is the primary issue behind the lack of low-cost housing merely focuses on a probable lack of success and does not mean that the housing bills are not narrowly tailored,” Chalfant wrote in his decision. “In contrast to [the] city’s generalized claims of overbreadth, [the] state and intervenors persuasively argue that the specific statutes amended or adopted in the housing bills are narrowly tailored because they permit local discretion to the extent feasible. The housing bills are reasonably related to the issue of statewide concern for insufficient low-cost housing and are narrowly tailored to address the issue.”

The Huntington Beach City Council voted 5-2 against appealing the judge’s ruling in a closed session Monday night, City Atty. Michael Gates announced. Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz and Councilman Erik Peterson were the dissenting votes.

“We didn’t want to appeal because there’s no path to victory in our minds and there’s no point in suing,” said City Councilman Mike Posey, one of the votes against appealing the ruling. “SB 35 and SB 1333 don’t apply to Huntington Beach anymore ... [because] our housing element is now compliant.”

Posey, who is on the regional council for the Southern California Assn. of Governments, said in his mind the lawsuits that were filed in January 2019 against the state are now moot.

Gov. Gavin Newsom requested the state file a lawsuit against Huntington Beach, also in January 2019, alleging the city was defying a state law that required cities and counties to set aside sufficient land for housing development. In September of that year, Posey introduced an agenda item to the City Council seeking to use SB 2 grant funding toward the city’s efforts to build a homeless navigation center.

At the time, Posey said, the city didn’t have a housing element that was compliant with the California Department of Housing and Community Development. “So city staff... zeroed in on six or seven sites that would accommodate our very low-income housing shortage, which was 413 units. That was also approved by the Council, which subsequently got the housing element recertified, which also got the Gavin Newsom v. Huntington Beach lawsuit dismissed in January of 2020.”

Huntington Beach has lost its appeal on the Regional Housing Needs Allocation numbers for the new cycle, which runs from October 2021 through October 2029. The city will most likely have to zone for 13,337 new residential units in that time period to maintain housing element compliance.

The city anticipates using a $500,000 Local Early Action Planning (LEAP) grant to hire a consultant to meet those numbers.

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