Court sustains state lawsuit against Huntington Beach over housing

Decision allows for rapid hearing on California’s efforts to make city plan for 13K homes

Court revives state lawsuit against Huntington Beach over housing
Attorney General Rob Bonta and Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates (Getty, City of Huntington Beach)

California is back on track with its lawsuit against Huntington Beach, which accuses the OC city of thumbing its nose at state efforts to make it plan for thousands of homes.

A three-judge panel at the state’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeal instructed a lower court Jan. 18 that Huntington Beach’s status as a charter city didn’t stop the state from seeking a rapid hearing on its complaint, the Los Angeles Times reported. 

The suit was temporarily halted by a Superior Court judge in November.

The lawsuit, brought by Attorney General Rob Bonta, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Department of Housing and Community Development, alleges the city violated state law by rejecting a plan to provide enough houses and apartments to meet the region’s expected population growth.

The appellate ruling didn’t decide the merits of the state’s case against Surf City.

Instead, it paves the way for the case to continue on an expedited basis, unless the city can convince the courts to halt the lawsuit for other reasons, according to the Times.

Although many cities have been slow to build new housing, Huntington Beach has repeatedly drawn fire from state officials for its refusal to follow state laws that address a housing shortfall.

Its City Council voted in March against a state-mandated plan calling for 13,368 new homes by 2030, nearly 6,000 of which must be affordable to low- or very-low-income households.

Hours later, Huntington Beach filed a 59-page lawsuit against the state, alleging state housing laws, including an eight-year housing element blueprint, violate the city’s right to zone property. 

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The lawsuit, filed in federal court, argued that Huntington Beach was a charter city and therefore  wasn’t subject to state housing allocation laws.

Huntington Beach persuaded San Diego County Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal in November to put the state’s lawsuit on hold until after the city’s federal lawsuit could be decided. Shortly thereafter, a federal judge rejected the city’s lawsuit, saying the city had no standing to sue. Huntington Beach has since taken its case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Bacal has set a hearing for Jan. 26 on Bonta’s motion to let the state’s lawsuit proceed.

On Jan. 18, the state’s 4th Circuit panel wrote that by state statute, “charter cities are exempt from some requirements of state planning and zoning law,” but “like all other cities, charter cities must adopt general plans with the mandatory elements specified by state law, including a housing element.”

It added that state law gives top priority to lawsuits against a city’s general plan, obligating the court to hold a hearing within 120 days, if requested.

“Today the Court of Appeal affirmed that every city will be held to the same standard. … No one, including Huntington Beach, is exempt from following the law,” Bonta said in a statement.

Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates, however, said the appeals court misread state law. “We will continue to challenge any ruling that applies state law to charter cities that do not apply to charter cities,” he told the Times.

— Dana Bartholomew

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