Huntington Beach sues state over mandated housing development

Lawsuit comes hours after the state sued the OC city for allegedly violating housing laws

Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland
Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland (Getty)

Hours after the state sued Huntington Beach for refusing to approve a builder’s remedy granny flats projects, the Orange County city heaved its own legal challenge back to Sacramento.

Huntington Beach filed a lawsuit against the state in federal court late Thursday, saying it’s not required to obey a state housing requirement that it finds room to build nearly 13,400 homes by 2030, the Orange County Register reported.

The 59-page lawsuit alleges that state housing laws, including an eight-year housing plan known as the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, violate the city’s right to zone property. 

Mayor Tony Strickland said the state’s goal is to “urbanize California” by mandating an amount of housing that would turn suburban communities like Huntington Beach into dense urban landscapes like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“Our citizens don’t want to live in an urban coastal community,” Strickland said in an afternoon press conference, 

The new complaint cites violations of the U.S. and state constitutions, saying that if allowed to proceed, the state “will continue with an unbridled power play to control all aspects of the City Council’s land use decisions in order to eliminate the suburban character of the city and replace it with a high-density mecca.” 

That so-called mecca would be achieved through “forced rezoning,” allowing developers to construct high-density projects and leave the council with “no discretion to deny or condition invasive high-density development,” according to the lawsuit.

It alleges the state-mandated housing element threatens the health, safety and welfare of the city and would overburden infrastructure, damage environmentally sensitive areas because the city is already nearly built out, and devalue private property.

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Huntington Beach leaders have long argued that, as a charter city, it has greater autonomy and isn’t subject to state housing laws.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta announced its legal challenge days after the city council voted 4-3- to shun any applications filed under the builder’s remedy provision in a state law that allows developers to skirt zoning rules in cities without a state-approved housing plan.  Its vote included not accepting any new applications for backyard housing units known as accessory dwelling units, or granny flats. That decision was apparently reversed on Thursday, allowing the city to once again approve ADUs, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The state is also filing a motion for preliminary injunction, which would bar the ban from taking effect while litigation is ongoing.

“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.”

Newsom made an example of Huntington Beach in 2019 when the state filed its first lawsuit against a city for not having a state-approved housing element.

Following a long fight with the state, Huntington Beach relented, settling the case out of court after losing millions of dollars in state funding — a consequence of not having a housing element.

Huntington Beach is among 242 California cities and counties subject to the builder’s remedy legal strategy because it has yet to adopt a state-certified housing element spelling out where future housing can be built.

City leaders across the state are concerned the builder’s remedy will bring unwanted housing to their neighborhoods, while stricter laws have made adoption of housing elements more difficult and time consuming. 

— Dana Bartholomew

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