Huntington Beach leaders got a second warning from state regulators that they’re about to violate state housing laws in a letter from Attorney General Rob Bonta on Monday.
“The City of Huntington Beach’s proposed ordinance attempts to unlawfully exempt the City from state law that creates sorely needed additional housing for low- and moderate-income Californians,” Bonta wrote in a Monday afternoon news release.
“With today’s letter, we’re putting the City on notice that adopting this ordinance would violate state law. I urge cities to take seriously their obligations under state housing laws. If you don’t, we will hold you accountable.”
City officials did not issue a formal response Monday and some council members plan to host a news conference about the issue at City Hall at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Bonta’s warnings come as a new Republican city council majority is swearing to take the fight to Sacramento on mandated zoning for new housing – setting up a fight with Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.
The council started out with a proposal banning the state law known as builder’s remedy, which allows the state to approve housing projects shot down by local governments if they don’t have an approved housing plan.
“There is no legal basis under the HAA (Housing Accountability Act) or any other state law that allows Huntington Beach to override the HAA,” wrote David Pai, a supervising deputy attorney general who wrote on Bonta’s behalf. “We write to caution you before the City proceeds any further in adopting such an ordinance in conflict with state law.”
To read the full letter, click here.
At their December 20 meeting, the council directed City Attorney Michael Gates to draft rules that would formally ban builder’s remedy, with Gates arguing it was already illegal under city codes.
“It’s just a separate discrete ordinance that makes it more express and clear the city will not tolerate builder’s remedy,” Gates said at the meeting.
The new council’s Republican majority all spoke in favor of the pushback against builder’s remedy.
“The state wants to urbanize Huntington Beach, they’re coming down with these mandates,” said Mayor Tony Strickland during the Dec. 20 meeting. “If you’ve heard anything coming from the voters and citizens of this city, is that they want us to fight. They want us to fight as much as we can to protect our suburban, coastal community.”
Councilman Casey McKeon, who proposed the item, said it was them “fulfilling the last pillar of our contract with the Huntington Beach voters.”
“This is one of the biggest threats facing our city,” McKeon said at the December meeting. “We have to fight this with every fiber of our being.”
After that initial approval, the state’s Housing and Community Development sent the city a letter telling them to reverse course.
“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,” regulators wrote in their letter.
To read their letter, click here.
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.”
It remains unclear what legal argument the city will use to oppose builder’s remedy, with Gates unwilling to answer the question after Councilman Dan Kalmick asked at the council’s Dec. 20 meeting.
“I can’t get into all the zoning right now,” Gates replied when asked how the builder’s remedy law is illegal.
“How do you know it’s illegal if you can’t cite the code?” Kalmick challenged again.
“I’ve looked at it,” Gates said. “Trust me.”
The city council has not yet issued a response to Bonta’s letter, with Councilman Casey McKeon confirming they would be hosting a news conference on the steps of City Hall at 2 p.m. Tuesday to issue their response.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.