Huntington Beach continues housing fight by setting sights on ADUs as state responds

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta addresses crowd in Santa Monica in July 2022.
California Atty Gen. Rob Bonta’s office has sent letters to Huntington Beach in recent weeks warning it about violation of state housing laws. Above, Bonta addresses a crowd in Santa Monica in July 2022.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
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Huntington Beach continues to vow to fight the state of California on housing, despite repeated warnings from the California attorney general and Department of Housing and Community Development.

The latest shot was taken Tuesday night, when the City Council instructed City Atty. Michael Gates to take “any legal action necessary” to challenge SB 9, SB 10 and laws that expand the ability for development of accessory dwelling units, often referred to as “granny flats.”

For the record:

10:51 a.m. Feb. 23, 2023This article has been updated with the correct name of the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

Councilman Pat Burns introduced the agenda item, which passed 4-3. He was joined by Mayor Tony Strickland, Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark and Councilman Casey McKeon. The “no” votes were Councilman Dan Kalmick and Councilwomen Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton.


“Really, it’s a matter of local control,” McKeon said. “It should be incumbent on the residents who live here to decide how they zone their city, and if they want to allow ADUs, etc., and have state mandates that pierce our charter protections and our local control ... This is part of that global discussion and argument of pushing back against the state with these mandates.”

Gates already announced last week that he is preparing his own lawsuit against the state over the city’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment number of 13,368 new units. But the state has repeatedly warned Huntington Beach that it is violating state law, and a lawsuit could follow.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta’s office and the Department of Housing and Community Development sent separate letters urging the council to reject Burns’ item. It was the second time in two weeks that Bonta had critiqued the city’s actions, following last week’s Planning Commission vote to recommend an ordinance that would ban “builder’s remedy” applications.

The City Council has yet to vote on certifying its housing element, though McKeon said last week that leaders are working with Housing and Community Development on meeting the minimum requirement.

Huntington Beach City Council member Casey McKeon, center, flanked by Mayor Tony Strickland and City Attorney Michael Gates.
Huntington Beach City Council member Casey McKeon, center, flanked by Mayor Tony Strickland and City Atty. Michael Gates, speaks during a press conference to discuss the city’s battle with the state of California over housing laws on Feb. 14.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Tuesday’s letter noted that SB 9 applications, as well as ADUs, are required to be ministerially approved, without discretionary action.

“[The agenda item] is not only misguided, it is unlawful,” wrote Supervising Deputy Atty. General David Pai, on behalf of Bonta. “As we stated in our letter to City Atty. Gates just one week ago, our office stands ready to enforce state housing laws if necessary.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom was even more pointed, in a tweet posted late Tuesday night by the governor’s office.

“Tonight, Huntington Beach leaders decided that their residents don’t need affordable housing,” the tweet read. “This is a pathetic pattern by politicians more focused on taking down pride flags than on real solutions. [California] needs more housing. Time for Huntington Beach to start acting like it.”

SB 9 allows homeowners to split their lot and build up to four units on it, though a recent UC Berkeley study suggests the law’s impact has been limited.

Kalmick called Burns’ agenda item “a solution in search of a problem” and “absolutely unnecessary.”

Responding to a question from Kalmick, city Director of Community Development Ursula Luna-Reynosa confirmed that the city has received no SB 9 applications since the law went into effect in January 2022. Additionally, SB 10 is an opt-in program, and Huntington Beach has not opted in.

“Now we’re adding in ADUs, which is literally ‘NIMBY-ism,’” Kalmick said. “Now you’re saying I can’t build something in my own backyard, which is wild. We don’t have a scourge of ADUs in this city. If you saw in the HCD’s letter and the Attorney General’s letter, we’re going to have to come up with 563 more units of housing if we make ADUs illegal. We’re not going to be able to certify our housing element without ADUs.”

Kalmick added that he’s actually looking for another property in Huntington Beach to move to that would allow an ADU so that his mother-in-law and father-in-law can come visit their grandchildren.

“It sounds like we’re trying to set up more lawsuits with the state, go to war with the state on this,” he said. “This just looks like we’re not going to be able to certify our housing element, and we’re going to get immediately sued by the attorney general ... This is just poking the bear, the California bear, if you will.”

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