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Huntington Beach Councilmember Erik Peterson is ready to sue over state mandated housing goals that city officials all over Orange County have been pushing back against for over a year.

The city considered such a lawsuit behind closed doors last month, but decided not to take action.  So did Costa Mesa council members who also took no action.

Now, Peterson is bringing the discussion out into open session for the public and the state to watch at Monday’s city council meeting at 6 p.m.. The meeting will be broadcasted online and can be watched here.

“For some reason, when this March 15th opportunity was presented in a Closed Session, the City Council decided to take no action to appeal. This was not right; it was a missed opportunity, and was inconsistent with Council’s repeated direction and the community’s input over the past year,” reads Peterson’s agenda report.

Peterson wants the city attorney to file an appeal on the amount of homes the city council has been tasked to zone for in less than ten years by a regional board.

The state assigned the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) — made up of city council members across the region — to come up with zoning for 1.3 million homes across six counties, including more than 180,000 in Orange County by Oct. 2029.

In the current cycle of SCAG’s requirements of local cities, which spans this year through 2029, Huntington Beach will have to zone for over 13,000 new homes — over 5,800 will have to be for very low income and low income families.

Sixteen cities in the county, including Huntington Beach, already filed appeals with the regional board to try to bring down the number of homes they have to zone for by the 2029 deadline. 

The regional board denied all of the appeals and has not returned a request for comment on the potential lawsuit they could face.

Some advocates like Eve Garrow with the ACLU say city councils “should get serious about meeting the needs of their low income community members.”

“Focus on that instead of on filing lawsuits and complaining that they’re unfairly being tasked with actually meeting or perhaps even exceeding the needs of low income folks,” Garrow said.

Larry Haynes — CEO of Mercy House, the nonprofit that operates Huntington Beach’s shelter — has told the Voice of OC in the past that lack of housing is an issue.

The shelter’s navigation center is intended to get people off the streets and into permanent housing. 

Huntington Beach has been to court over housing before.

A couple years ago, the state sued Huntington Beach over for what they described as a failure to allow enough affordable homes to be built. The city agreed to settle the lawsuit last year.

Much of the uproar from Orange County city officials came over the methodology the regional board used to distribute the housing goals across Southern California. 

The state’s housing and community development department however reviewed the methodology and found it furthers their regional housing needs objectives.

Other cities will also be taking up housing issues at their meetings next week.

Dana Point officials will receive an update on their state mandated housing goals for 2021-2029 as well as a progress report on the previous cycle’s housing goals at their Tuesday meeting.

That same day, San Clemente Council members will consider updating their inclusionary housing program and in-lieu fees.

State Assemblywoman Janet Nguyen has introduced a bill this year that would allow cities to request judicial review of the methodology used to determine a city’s housing needs, which Yorba Linda officials are set to discuss Tuesday.

The Association of California Cities – Orange County wrote a letter supporting the bill. The association acknowledges that the state has a housing shortage, but believes local control is an important part of determining housing in the area.

City officials all over the state are calling for greater local control on zoning and housing issues within their own borders in response to recent state legislation that they say usurps their governance.

Meanwhile, Orange County residents have identified housing and homelessness as their most important problems, according to the 2020 Orange County Annual Survey conducted by Chapman University.

On Monday, Huntington Beach officials will also consider approving a contract with Be Well OC to handle police calls regarding homeless people with mental illness.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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