State of California goes after Huntington Beach following housing plan rejection
State of California leaders announced Monday they are suing the city of Huntington Beach for violating state housing element law.
Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Department of Housing and Community Development jointly announced a motion to amend the state’s existing lawsuit against Huntington Beach, which was filed on March 8.
The move came after the Huntington Beach City Council, by a 4-3 vote led by the conservative majority, decided last week not to approve a state-compliant draft housing element of the city’s general plan. Mayor Tony Strickland, Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark, Councilman Casey McKeon and Councilman Pat Burns voted against the plan, which would zone for slightly more than the 13,368 units required as part of the mandated Regional Housing Needs Assessment.
The state seeks both penalties and injunctive relief. It also seeks suspension of the city’s permitting authority and mandating the approval of certain residential projects until the city comes into compliance with the law — known as builder’s remedy.
“California is in the midst of a housing crisis, and time and time again, Huntington Beach has demonstrated they are part of the problem by defiantly refusing every opportunity to provide essential housing for its own residents,” Bonta said in a statement. “The city’s refusal last week to adopt a housing element in accordance with state law is just the latest in a string of willfully illegal actions by the city — decisions that worsen our housing crisis and harm taxpayers and Huntington Beach residents. We won’t stand idly by as Huntington Beach continues to flagrantly violate state housing laws designed to bring crucial affordable housing opportunities to our communities. We’ll use every legal tool available to hold the city accountable and enforce state housing laws.”
The state filed suit against Huntington Beach on March 8, arguing that the city’s ban on the processing of SB 9 and accessory dwelling unit applications violated state housing laws. Those bans have since been reversed by the City Council, but the revised lawsuit relates to the city failing to adopt a housing element that was originally due in October 2021.
City Atty. Michael Gates filed a still-active lawsuit in federal court last month, arguing that the state is violating Huntington Beach’s 1st and 14th Amendment rights. That lawsuit claims the state cannot have preemptive power over Huntington Beach’s charter-city rights to zone property.
But on March 21, a federal court judge rejected the city’s request for a temporary restraining order against the state, barring it from enforcing fines and penalties related to failed compliance with housing laws.
Strickland released a statement Monday evening saying the state cannot simply “amend” the existing lawsuit involving SB 9 and ADUs but that procedure laws say that leaders need to file a new lawsuit against the city regarding its housing element.
He also pointed out that the state has more than 240 other cities that do not have certified housing elements. Of Orange County’s 34 cities, 15 have a compliant housing element as of Tuesday per the state’s tracking information, including Fountain Valley, Laguna Beach and Newport Beach.
“The fact that the attorney general is singling out Huntington Beach only strengthens the city’s arguments in court that the state is not following the law with these housing mandates,” Strickland said in the statement. “These regular state press releases announcing legal actions against Huntington Beach may grab headlines, but they do not intimidate or deter the city, and they have no effect in the court of law, where these conflicts of law will ultimately be decided.”
According to the state’s amended lawsuit filed Monday, a draft housing element completed by Huntington Beach city staff was verified to meet HCD’s statutory requirements on Sept. 30, 2022. But it was never voted on by the City Council last fall.
HCD met with city representatives on March 8, and again on March 24, to discuss the city’s violation of the housing element law.
At the meeting last week, Strickland and Van Der Mark claimed they could not support a statement of overriding considerations, a document required by the California Environmental Quality Act that states that the benefits of the housing outweighs environmental impacts.
Some, including Councilman Dan Kalmick, have called that refusal a technicality. And now the city is without a certified housing element and at continued odds with the state.
It’s not the first time. In 2019, Newsom announced the state was suing Huntington Beach, accusing Surf City of deliberately blocking new homebuilding. That lawsuit was settled after the city reinstated 413 affordable housing units into its plans.
“Huntington Beach continues to fail its residents,” Newsom said in a statement Monday. “Every city and county needs to do their part to bring down the high housing and rent costs that are impacting families across this state. California will continue taking every step necessary to ensure everyone is building their fair share of housing and not flouting state housing laws at the expense of the community.”
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