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Assemblywoman wants negotiations to end state’s lawsuit against Huntington Beach over housing requirements

Assemblywoman wants negotiations to end state’s lawsuit against Huntington Beach over housing requirements
Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) says she is trying to negotiate an end to California’s lawsuit accusing Huntington Beach of defying a state law that requires cities and counties to set aside sufficient land for housing development. (File Photo)

Newly elected state Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris said Monday she is trying to negotiate an end to a potentially costly legal battle in California’s housing lawsuit against Huntington Beach and said the city should get more time to comply with state requirements.

The Laguna Beach Democrat’s position put her in disagreement with the approach pushed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a fellow Democrat who said the lawsuit was necessary to address rising housing costs that threaten economic growth and deepen inequality.

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In the complaint filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court, California accused Huntington Beach of defying a state law that requires cities and counties to set aside sufficient land for housing development and said it has tried to work with the city the past four years.

Petrie-Norris called the lawsuit “contrary to the thoughtful, deliberate and strategic approach” required to solve the housing crisis. She said this wasn’t a time for “political brinkmanship.”

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She said she spent the weekend going to bat for Huntington Beach, asking the governor’s office to give the city more time to comply. With nearly all cities and counties in the state – 97.6%, based on the state’s latest report – failing to meet their housing goals, it is clear a new approach is needed, she said.

“I really feel like taking this to court at this stage is an inefficient and unproductive way to solve this problem now,” Petrie-Norris said.

She said “there are other options available to us,” though she did not elaborate.

State Assemblyman Tyler Diep (R-Westminster) — who, like Petrie-Norris, was elected in November — and veteran state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) expressed their support last week for the city against the state’s legal action.

Nathan Click, a spokesman for Newsom, said Monday “the governor supports and encourages all efforts to help the city come into compliance with state housing law, and the state will gladly drop its lawsuit once it does so.”

“Our goal has always been for Huntington Beach to amend its housing plan to allow for more housing,” Click said in a statement. “California has made repeated attempts to work with the city to bring their housing plan into compliance over the last four years and stands ready to do so once more.”

Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates expressed appreciation for Petrie-Norris’ efforts toward negotiation and said he will meet with her this week.

“This is precisely why local control is important and having local officials involved is important,” Gates said Monday. “If Sacramento is interested in what’s going on in cities, they should contact local officials like Cottie Norris and get a lesson of what’s going on.”

Huntington Beach contends it spent the past two months negotiating with the Kennedy Commission, an affordable-housing advocacy group, to try to settle a lawsuit the group filed in 2015 alleging an amendment to the city’s development plan for the Beach Boulevard-Edinger Avenue corridor violated state housing law.

A resolution in that case, city officials argue, would solve the city’s shortfall in state-mandated low-income housing units.

The state’s lawsuit “throws a wrench and stops all the progress,” said Huntington Beach Mayor Erik Peterson.

The legal battle with the Kennedy Commission is continuing, though a state appeals court ruled in favor of the city in 2017 because Huntington Beach is a charter city, exempting it from some state zoning laws.

Gates said he will confer with the City Council about the state’s lawsuit in a closed session next month and vowed to “aggressively” represent Huntington Beach residents.

Huntington Beach put itself in a shortfall toward its state target for low-income housing when the council in 2015 amended the Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan, which was adopted in 2010 to help revitalize Beach Boulevard and Edinger Avenue by streamlining the building approval process.

The amendments reduced the cap on new residential development from 4,500 units to 2,100 and imposed stricter height and setback requirements after many residents complained about the high rate at which high-density residential projects were popping up.

The original Beach and Edinger plan is tied to Huntington Beach’s housing element, a guideline in the city general plan it uses to identifying ways the city can address housing needs for all economic segments as the community grows.

The amendments meant the city no longer had enough land zoned to accommodate low-income residents under state requirements, prompting the Kennedy Commission’s lawsuit.

According to the state, its Department of Housing and Community Development began working with the city in 2015 to prepare an amended and “legally compliant” housing element.

The city argued in the Kennedy Commission case it was working to amend its housing element and the group’s lawsuit was “unnecessary and would soon be moot.” But a proposed housing plan was unanimously rejected by the City Council in 2016, with Peterson and others saying the city should prepare to fight the state regarding the mandated amount of low-income housing in the city.

After the Housing and Community Development Department issued a second notice of noncompliance in 2018, the city said it would create a new housing plan after it resolved its dispute with the Kennedy Commission.

“The time for empty promises has come to an end,” the state’s lawsuit says. “The city should not be allowed to avoid its statutory obligations any longer.”

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