Huntington Beach will bring possible zoning charter amendment to voters

Huntington Beach City Councilman Casey McKeon, center, flanked by then-Mayor Tony Strickland and City Attorney Michael Gates.
Huntington Beach City Councilman Casey McKeon, center, flanked by then-Mayor Tony Strickland and City Attorney Michael Gates, speaks during a 2023 press conference to discuss the city’s battle with the state of California over housing laws.
(File Photo)
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The city of Huntington Beach has been warring with the state of California over housing mandates for a while now.

Now Surf City voters may have a say before some projects can move forward.

The City Council voted 4-0-3 on Tuesday night to put a charter amendment on the November general election ballot related to zoning changes or general plan updates.

The proposed amendment would require the voters to sign off on any changes an environmental impact report shows would present “significant and unavoidable” negative impacts to the environment.


Councilman Casey McKeon, Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark and Mayor Pro Tem Pat Burns brought the item forward, and it was also supported by Councilman Tony Strickland.

The three members of the council minority — Dan Kalmick, Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton — abstained from voting, with Moser indicating that she was abstaining based on the rushing of the process.

The city still has not adopted a complaint housing element for the current Regional Housing Needs Assessment cycle, which runs to 2029. In March of 2023, the council failed to approve the EIR related to the general plan housing element update. The conservative majority refused to sign a statement of overriding considerations, that maintains the need for housing outweighs damage to the environment.

In May, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled that Huntington Beach must pass a housing element compliant with state law. The city is appealing.

Last November, a federal judge ruled against Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates’ argument that housing mandates violated the city’s 1st Amendment protection for compelled speech and 14th Amendment due process protections. Gates, again, appealed to the Ninth District Court of Appeals.

Now, the council majority is saying it believes any city-initiated changes should first receive approval by a vote of the people.

“If the EIR has significant or unavoidable negative impacts to the environment, that’s permanent,” McKeon said. “That cannot be undone. When you hit that very high threshold, I think it’s too important for four council members to make that permanent decision. I think it should go to the voters.”

The city’s RHNA number requires it to plan for 13,368 units. But more than 8,000 of those are required to be affordable to either very-low income, low-income or moderate income households.

Since the housing element contemplates a 20% affordability component, McKeon said in actuality the methodology requires more than 40,000 units to be planned for in Surf City.

“In our 27-square mile city there’s 81,000 housing units, and you say we’re going to put in 50% more,” said McKeon, a real estate developer by trade. “Where are you going to do that? There’s no new roads being built. I mean, infrastructure, circulation, traffic… that is so drastic, it’s crazy.”

Huntington Beach Council members and other officials at the groundbreaking ceremony for Huntington Beach Seniors.
From left, Councilwomen Rhonda Bolton and Natalie Moser, OC Supervisor Katrina Foley, Mayor Barbara Delgleize, Jamboree President and CEO Laura Archuleta and assistant city manager Travis Hopkins pose for pictures during a groundbreaking ceremony for Huntington Beach Seniors on June 1, 2022.
(File photo)

He emphasized that the proposed charter amendment, if approved by voters, would affect city-initiated changes only, not private sector developments, and that it would affect any retail, commercial or industrial zoning changes as well as residential.

The proposed charter amendment would be the fourth put on the ballot this year in Huntington Beach by the conservative majority, which ran two years ago on a ticket that was critical of charter amendments brought forward by the previous council. Measures A and B, related to voter identification and flag policies, passed in the March primary election.

Kalmick said in a lengthy response to McKeon from the dais that the charter amendment amounted to a dereliction of duty by the council members, who were elected to make decisions like this, instead of handing them off to residents to weigh complicated and lengthy environmental documents.

“You don’t go to a heart surgeon to fix a blocked artery and ask him to poll the waiting room, to see if you should put a stent in or do open heart surgery,” he said. “You rely on the heart surgeon’s expertise and that of his support staff in the operating room. [The California Environmental Quality Act] is really complicated, and it has nothing to do with if you’re smart enough to figure it out. It has to do with the time and learned skill set to evaluate what the hell it’s trying to tell you.”

Kalmick showed a video from the Yorba Linda City Council meeting on June 18. That city is placing a measure on the ballot so that the voters can approve the zoning for their housing element, after a similar measure in the 2022 election had just 24% of the voters in favor.

Yorba Linda Councilwoman Peggy Huang, a senior deputy city attorney in Huntington Beach, stressed to her Council colleagues during that meeting the importance of passing a housing element to avoid penalties.

“If this housing element doesn’t pass, then when a project comes before us, we rubber stamp it,” she said, referring to builder’s remedy concerns. “We lose all local control.”

Kalmick also brushed aside any notion that the proposed amendment was about environmental concerns.

“They killed the Environmental Board, so tell me how this is about environmental stewardship,” Kalmick said.

Moser said the city cannot survive a “forever war” against the state of California.

Bolton referenced a case in which a judge ruled earlier this year that Senate Bill 9, a law ending single-family-home-only zoning in California, was unconstitutional as applied to charter cities like Redondo Beach, though not to general law cities like Manhattan Beach. Huntington Beach, like Redondo Beach, is a charter city.

“I’ll bet anyone a chicken dinner that case gets reversed on appeal,” said Bolton, a lawyer, from the dais. “Any takers? Anyone want a chicken dinner?”

Gates, smiling, raised his hand.

“OK, you’re on,” Bolton said.