Los Angeles Politics

California sues Huntington Beach over a housing ban

Gov. Gavin Newsom and Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta announced Thursday that the state filed a lawsuit against Huntington Beach, alleging that the city’s ban on approving applications for certain types of housing projects is a violation of California law.

The state is also filing a motion for preliminary injunction, which would prohibit the ban from taking effect while litigation is ongoing. Bonta said he was “disappointed” that the state had to resort to a lawsuit.

“California is facing an existential housing crisis, one we should all be acting in unison to solve,” Bonta said at a news conference. “Instead, the Huntington Beach City Council has chosen to stifle affordable housing projects, infringe on the rights of property owners and knowingly violate state housing law.”

The lawsuit is the latest episode in an ongoing clash over housing between the state and the Orange County beach community, which has been a thorn in Newsom’s side since he took office. Newsom called Huntington Beach an example of “what’s wrong with housing in the state of California.”

“They’re Exhibit A, what NIMBYism looks like and they are not representing the people they claim to represent,” Newsom said, referencing a term used to describe people that oppose new housing in their neighborhoods. “This is a waste of time and they’re wasting taxpayer money.”

Huntington Beach on Thursday responded by filing its own 59-page lawsuit in federal court challenging the state’s requirement that the city zone for 13,368 new housing units in the coming years.

Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates called the state’s news conference “a bunch of bluster.” Mayor Tony Strickland said during a news conference that “neither the state or Gavin Newsom are serious about actually producing more housing.”

“Their goal is to urbanize quiet private property owning communities,” he said. “This lawsuit filed by our city attorney today is the first major step in taking the governor and the state to task over their faulty narratives about housing and their unconstitutional legislative and administrative means of stripping charter cities of their ability to make their own decisions.”

The state’s lawsuit focuses on a ban that Huntington Beach has established on applications for projects under Senate Bill 9, a new state housing law that makes it easier for homeowners to split their single-family lots and build a duplex on each side for a possible total of four units on one parcel.

The law is part of a broader effort the state has undertaken in recent years to bolster California’s housing stock and pave the way for more affordable units. The Huntington Beach City Council on Tuesday also affirmed its policy to stop approving applications for accessory dwelling units, otherwise known as casitas, in-law units or granny flats.

Newsom telegraphed the lawsuit last month when he called out Huntington Beach at a news conference and said he wouldn’t hesitate to hold cities “accountable for doing the right thing and providing housing for people at all income levels.”

The lawsuit marks the second time the state has taken its housing battle with the city to court. Just weeks after Newsom took office in 2019, the state filed a lawsuit against Huntington Beach and alleged the city violated a state law that requires cities and counties to set aside sufficient land for new residential development.

“The city had ample notice and time to course correct,” Bonta said Thursday. “Instead, they chose a path that led us right where we are today. They have asked for this and they have earned this.”

Bonta also warned that the lawsuit could be amended to contest Huntington Beach’s proposed ordinance to prohibit the approval of any application for a housing development project that does not conform with the city’s zoning and general land use plan regardless of state law.

Bonta previously sent a letter warning the city that the ordinance would violate the “builders remedy,” a state law intended to crack down on cities that don’t meaningfully plan for new housing and to provide a path toward construction of more affordable units.

The law allows developers more freedom to build projects in cities that haven’t adequately planned for more housing and are therefore out of compliance with state requirements. Developers are required to set aside at least 20% of their projects for affordable housing, or 100% for middle-income units, but is only triggered when local governments fail to submit housing blueprints that detail realistic plans for more development.

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Joseph Hernandez

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