The state of California sues Huntington Beach over housing law

Orange County, CA has isn’t as conservative as it once was but there are still pockets of it that are more conservative than others. Huntington Beach, where I live is one of those towns. Last year all four GOP-endorsed city council candidates won their races even as Democrats gained control of the county’s Board of Supervisors. Maybe that has something to do with why Gov. Newsom and Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta have decided to sue the city over housing policy.

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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.”…

“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.”

So what’s going on here? Well, as you’re probably aware, California has a serious homelessness problem (around 170,000 people) which is generally attributed to the failure to build enough affordable housing. State law requires every city to come up with a plan every eight years for how it will meet the state’s allotment of new housing. In the case of Huntington Beach, the state is demanding the city come up with a plan for 13,368 new homes. And so far HB hasn’t provide a plan to do this.

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The state punishes cities that don’t have state-approved housing plans by letting developers come in and build affordable apartment buildings without asking for local permission — a penalty known as the “builder’s remedy.” The Huntington Beach City Council is considering an ordinance at its next meeting that would exempt the city from this penalty, an ordinance state officials say is illegal.

A state law, passed in 2019, says a state judge can impose fines starting at $10,000 per month for cities that refuse to comply. The law also says the court can appoint someone “with all the powers necessary” to force the city into compliance.

This is the second time California officials have sued Huntington Beach for not following state housing laws. The city settled the first lawsuit back in 2020.

In addition, the big boom in housing in many parts of California lately has been the construction of ADUs, accessory dwelling units. These are like small apartments which homeowners are allowed to build in their backyards as rental prosperities.

California approved permits on 22,663 ADUs in 2021, up from 8,905 in 2018, according to an analysis of state data by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley. Overall, the state paved the way for at least 63,456 ADUs to be built between 2018 and 2021, the Terner Center report showed.

But Huntington Beach recently voted not to allow the constructing of ADUs and that may be what really prompted this lawsuit. Huntington Beach responded by filing a counter-suit.

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.”

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So I guess we’ll see where this goes, but I think this is as much about politics as policy. Housing within 2 miles of the beach will never be truly affordable for most people but why not use a conservative city in Orange County as a foil for your tough progressive persona, the same way Gov. Newsom seems to spend a lot of time lashing out at Gov. DeSantis. Practically it accomplishes nothing but politically it makes perfect sense.

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David Strom 10:40 AM | April 12, 2024
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