Huntington Beach again fails to pass housing plan, leaving Surf City out of compliance with state

New townhomes are being built at 8371 Talbert Ave. in Huntington Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)
Share via

Huntington Beach city leaders have already gone to war against Sacramento, filing a federal lawsuit against the state’s housing mandates.

But on Tuesday night, the City Council also voted to not pass a state-compliant housing element that could theoretically be certified while the lawsuit unfolds.

On a split 4-3 vote, the conservative council majority voted against passing a housing element that would zone for slightly more than the 13,368 units required of the city as its Regional Housing Needs Assessment number.


Mayor Tony Strickland, Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark, Councilman Casey McKeon and Councilman Pat Burns voted against passing the housing plan, with Councilman Dan Kalmick and Councilwomen Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton voting to approve it.

McKeon got dramatic as he neared the end of his prepared comments.

“This is the moment we stand our ground and draw the line in the sand to save our city,” he said. “This is the moment we fight back. As I mentioned when we were sworn in, if we lose this fight, we will pick another angle. I will never stop fighting against state overreach in order to protect the city I love and the amazing residents who elected me. I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees.”

Strickland and Van Der Mark continued to indicate that they could not approve what’s known as a statement of overriding considerations, which basically says that the benefits of this new housing outweighed environmental impacts.

A vacant plot of land where new townhomes are being built on Talbert Avenue in Huntington Beach.
A vacant plot of land where new townhomes are being built on Talbert Avenue in Huntington Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Kalmick called that a technicality and said he was frustrated that a lot of people’s time has been wasted, echoing concerns levied by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta that the city needs to provide for more affordable housing.

“The [California Environmental Quality Act] document has been the same document for almost a year now,” he said. “We got a lot of emails this week. A lot of people [saying] I’ve lived here 40 years, I’ve lived here 80 years, I’m eighth-generation Huntington Beach. Well, I’ve lived here for 20 years and it’s no longer affordable to live here.”

“If somebody wants to try to buy a $1-million home in Huntington Beach … you’ve got to make like $280,000 a year to buy that home, just to meet the 30% debt to income ratio. That’s a lot of money. A lot of our folks are priced out of the market.”

Kalmick also reminded those in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting that the housing plan is a zoning document.

“This is an administrative document that shows that we can meet state law, not a building target,” he said.

Many other cities around Orange County don’t have a certified housing element, according to a database maintained by the state. But none have pushed back as hard as Huntington Beach.

Being out of compliance opens Huntington Beach up to fines and penalties levied by the state, not to mention the so-called “builder’s remedy.” That states that cities without a compliant housing element have to approve any housing project, as long as at least 20% of the homes are low-income or 100% are moderate-income.

New townhomes are being built at 8371 Talbert Ave. in Huntington Beach.
New townhomes are being built at 8371 Talbert Ave. in Huntington Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“I think that this council has gone about this in the reverse order of what I think would make sense,” Moser said. “It would be best to pass a housing element, so that we wouldn’t have to deal with legal suits and attorney’s fees, financial penalties, loss of permitting authority and court receivership … If we don’t pass this, we will lose local control, I imagine pretty quickly.”

Though the city has been out of compliance since October, no developers have claimed builder’s remedy until recently. But public records show that one developer recently cited the exemption in applying for a pair of residential development projects, which would be located across the street from each other at Beach Boulevard and Yorktown Avenue.

AMG & Associates, based in Encino, cites the Housing Accountability Act as the basis for not having to comply with many zoning code sections to build a bigger project. The two projects combined are planned to include 231 units.

McKeon asked staff Tuesday night about “self-certifying” the housing element, for a number far less than the 13,368 units required by RHNA and eliminating the affordable housing overlays.

His motion to do so was seconded by Burns, but both Huntington Beach director of community development Ursula Luna-Reynosa and planning manager Jennifer Villasenor told him that would be unlikely to fulfill the city’s CEQA requirements.

“There really isn’t a process to self-certify the housing element,” Villasenor said. “The City Council can adopt any housing element they want. Whether or not it gets certified by the state is another question.”

McKeon ended up withdrawing his motion.

Many public speakers at the meeting advised the council to vote against passing the housing element, though some stressed the importance of following state regulations.

“I am against transforming our beautiful city into an urban area like Los Angeles, especially when it’s literally based on lies,” Heidi Vea said. “Since when does it make sense to let the state — crooked politicians who live hundreds of miles away with leftist agendas — decide what our city looks like?”

But audience member Cathey Ryder said that the vision some have of Surf City may be misguided.

“You want a little sleepy coastal town, that ship has sailed,” she said. “Go to Cayucos.”

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.