Huntington Beach “part of the problem” on housing, state says

Amended lawsuit seeks to suspend the OC city’s permitting authority

From left: Attorney General Rob Bonta and Mayor of Huntington Beach Tony Strickland (Getty)
From left: Attorney General Rob Bonta and Mayor of Huntington Beach Tony Strickland (Getty)

Days after the City of Huntington Beach voted against adopting a key housing document — a move that effectively perpetuated the city’s already pitched battle against Sacramento authorities — the California attorney general’s office has responded by filing a new legal action against the city. 

“California is in the midst of a housing crisis,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement on Monday, “and time and time again, Huntington Beach has demonstrated they are part of the problem by defiantly refusing every opportunity to provide essential housing for its own residents.” 

Bonta added that Huntington Beach’s move last week, in which the City Council narrowly voted to reject a critical housing planning document that had been prepared over a period of months by city staff, was “just the latest in a string of willfully illegal actions by the city.” 

The attorney general’s office also explicitly pointed out that the city’s actions mean it is still subject to the builder’s remedy, the controversial, previously obscure legal provision that began sweeping California last fall. Under California law, all jurisdictions within the state must periodically update their Housing Element, a part of the general code that outlines housing planning, in line with state-determined goals. Cities that fail to do so are subject to certain penalties, including the builder’s remedy, which allows developers to bypass local zoning rules to obtain approval for housing construction. 

Huntington Beach has now been out of state compliance on its Housing Element for around 16 months, a period that will stretch even longer because of the City Council’s vote last week. The vote came after a heated council meeting that revealed how thoroughly the city’s ongoing battle against the state over housing laws — a battle that was turned into a cause celebre by the city’s new conservative counsel bloc — has divided both local officials and residents. 

“It is fundamental,” Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland, who is part of the conservative bloc, said at one point during last week’s meeting. “If we lose this fight, the city that people love here in Huntington Beach — the suburban community that they love — is gone.” 

Following last week’s 4-3 council vote, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a strong housing proponent who was first elected in part on a promise to help the state build millions of homes, added his own criticism, declaring in a statement that “Huntington Beach continues to fail its residents” and suggesting the city was failing to do its fair share to alleviate the state’s housing crisis. 

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The new legal action is an amendment to an existing lawsuit the state has pending against the city. In March, the state filed one suit against Huntington Beach over the city’s recent ban on processing applications for ADUs and development related to SB 9, a major state housing bill that came into effect in 2022. Following the suit, Huntington Beach “reversed course,” in the words of the attorney general’s office, and resumed processing the applications. 

The state’s amended complaint argues that Huntington Beach is violating the California Housing Element Law and seeks to suspend the city’s permitting authority, among other remedies. 

In response to the new comments and amended complaint from Sacramento, Strickland vowed to stay the course. 

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“These regular state press releases announcing legal actions against Huntington Beach may grab headlines,” he said in a statement, “but they do not intimidate or deter the city, and they have no effect in the court of law, where these conflicts will ultimately be decided.” 

Strickland took technical issue with the state’s amended filing, arguing that legal procedure would require an entirely new lawsuit, instead of a motion to amend an existing one, and “Bonta should know that.” 

Huntington Beach also has its own lawsuit pending against the state related to the state-determined mandates. For the ongoing Housing Element update, the state had determined that Huntington Beach, a coastal city with around 200,000 residents, must plan for an additional 13,400 homes by 2030. As part of its pitched, highly ideological battle against state authority, Huntington Beach officials repeatedly warn of disastrous consequences from such “urbanizing,” even though the planning figure also doesn’t guarantee that many new homes would actually be built. 


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