Surf City leaders are looking at implementing a new housing plan as the council majority gears up to fight Sacramento over housing mandates. 

While the city has yet to pitch the plan to the state, there isn’t another one like it in California according to city staff, with the city zoning for 7,000 units less than the plan the state provisionally approved last year. 

It’s setting up a battle between Huntington Beach’s newly elected Republican majority city council and Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. 

The pushback on Sacramento started with a proposal by Councilman Casey McKeon in December to challenge the state mandate that the city zone for over 13,000 new units of housing, calling the goals “outrageous.”  

The California Dept. of Housing and Community Development told city leaders earlier this month that if they keep going this direction, there will be consequences.

“HCD will continue to monitor the City’s actions regarding the proposed ordinance, and if the City adopts an ordinance that violates state housing law, HCD will respond in order to remedy those violations,” wrote Melinda Coy. 

To read the letter, click here

[Read: Sacramento Warns Huntington Beach Against Violating State Housing Law]

Newsom lambasted the proposal last month.  

He said Huntington Beach is “another city where elected officials are resorting to cheap political stunts to avoid their responsibility to build desperately needed housing.  California’s housing crisis is real, and we need leaders who are serious about solving problems in their communities. It is time for the games to stop.”     

Despite the warning letter from the housing department, Huntington Beach leaders are showing no signs of slowing down. 

In response to the letter, Mayor Tony Strickland shot back at Newsom and doubled down on opposing the housing mandates.

“The City of Huntington Beach is right to challenge these State housing mandates,” Strickland said in his response. “We don’t need to hear a lecture from Governor Newsom. Gavin Newsom left San Francisco in shambles as Mayor and is doing the same thing to our state.”

During a study session at the council’s Tuesday night meeting, city staff introduced two options for the city council: move forward with the housing plan that already has provisional approval from the state, or a new plan that would zone for around 7,000 less units. 

Under the original plan, the city would zone for 20,000 units of new housing, leaving them a 7,000 unit buffer in case projects were to not meet the requirements for low and moderate income housing. 

But instead, council members directed staff to bring back a plan zoning for just over 13,000 units, the minimum required by the state, and keep the 7,000 buffer units out of the plan unless they ended up being necessary. 

“You could picture them in two separate buckets,” said Nicolle Aube, a senior administrative analyst who presented the plan to the council. “Sites would be reviewed to determine which site best picks up the lost zoning capacity.” 

But, Aube also said it wasn’t a sure thing that the state would approve the plan. 

The original plan “would be a more certain path toward compliance,” Aube said, adding that city staff thought the new plan is “viable and a legal option for compliance.” 

Spokespeople for the state housing department did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Voice of OC on whether the new plan would be approved. 

Councilmembers pushed forward with the new plan, adding that they wanted final say on which projects would come out of the buffer each time instead of leaving the job to city staff.

“If we have to certify a map, it should be the minimum amount of units,” said Councilman Casey McKeon. “We have sites identified, we can then rezone on the fly and go through the process with maximum oversight instead of rezoning those buffer sites now, which creates a lot of angst in the community.” 

Councilman Pat Burns asked why the city couldn’t just require developers to meet numbers for low income and moderate incoming housing with their projects, but staff claimed that could also get them into trouble with the state for impeding the project. 

“Well that’s a heck of a situation,” Burns said. “I can’t believe there’d be such hypocrisy in the state that they mandate something and it can’t be fulfilled.” 

In 2019, the state sued Huntington Beach over what they described as a failure to allow enough affordable homes to be built. The city agreed to settle the lawsuit in 2020.

The previous city council voted against going to court with the state over the mandated housing goals in 2021 with some council members worried of the cost.

The four newly elected Republican city council members all ran on a platform of challenging the state over the more than 13,000 housing units the city has been mandated to zone for.

“One of the biggest fights we have is pushing back against these 13,368 units,” McKeon said at last night’s meeting. “Our approach should be to focus on the minimum.”

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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